COVID-19 Genomics and Wastewater Surveillance


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​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​UPDATED: February 1, 2023

​Genomic Surveillance in Nebraska

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has organized a consortium to monitor and track the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19 in Nebraska. The Nebraska Genomics Consortium consists of DHHS, local health departments, and a network of laboratories including the Nebraska Public Health Laboratory (NPHL), Creighton University, CHI Health Laboratory, and the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health.

What is SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance?

SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance is the process of monitoring and tracking the evolution and spread of SARS-CoV-2 circulating in the population in order to better understand changes in the genetic code of the virus and how those changes might impact public health. This is done by sequencing or decoding the genetic code of the virus to understand how it is evolving into different variants and spreading from one person to another.

Why is SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance important?

Genomic surveillance provides valuable information to scientists, doctors, and public health officials. This information is used to:

  • Estimate the prevalence of variants in the population
  • Investigate the transmissibility or contagiousness of variants that spread in outbreaks
  • Assess if variants are detected by currently available diagnostic tests
  • Understand if variants are causing milder or more severe disease in people​
  • Understand if variants have an impact on the effectiveness of currently available COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics

Can I know the variant for my positive COVID-19 test?

Sequencing results are used for public health surveillance purposes and situational awareness of what variants might be circulating in the population. When people receive a COVID-19 positive test, they do not find out which variant caused their infection. Genomic sequencing, which looks at the genetic code of the virus, is conducted later for the purpose of better understanding variant trends in the population.

The data presented in the Genomic Surveillance Report graph shows the biweekly proportion of SARS-CoV-2 variants circulating across the State as well as the number and type of variant detected. 

View the Genomic Surveillance Report

Wastewater Surveillance in Nebraska

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services is collaborating with the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and wastewater utilities across Nebraska to monitor SARS-CoV-2 virus in wastewater.

What is wastewater surveillance for COVID-19?

Wastewater surveillance involves testing and monitoring wastewater for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Many individuals infected with COVID-19 shed SARS-CoV-2 viral particles in their fecal waste. Testing wastewater for these viral particles allows for tracking COVID-19 trends in wastewater.

What is the benefit of testing wastewater for SARS-CoV-2?

  • Wastewater surveillance can capture presence of SARS-CoV-2 shed  regardless of symptom prevalence.
  • Wastewater surveillance can be an early indicator that the number of people with COVID-19 in a community is increasing or decreasing.
  • Wastewater surveillance does not depend on people having access to healthcare, those seeking healthcare when sick, or availability of COVID-19 testing.

How will the results be used?

Wastewater surveillance data is meant to supplement existing COVID-19 surveillance metrics (i.e. case data, hospitalization data) to evaluate trends to inform public health response. Wastewater surveillance data might give health officials early warnings about increases or decreases in COVID-19 cases within a community. Public health departments can use this and other surveillance data to evaluate trends and guide response.

What do the results mean?

The data presented in the Wastewater Surveillance Report graph​ show the concentration of SARS-CoV-2 in the units of copies per liter in the area from which the wastewater was collected. This area is known as a 'sewershed' or 'catchment area', which is the community area served by a wastewater collection system.

Wastewater surveillance is an emerging public health tool. There is evidence that the quantity of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater is correlated with infections in the wastewater sewershed area.

It is important to note that wastewater testing results do not allow for reliable estimates or predictions on the prevalence of COVID-19 infection in the wastewater catchment area.​