Spain’s largest cities are using GoAigua technology to test their population for COVID-19 spread. These cities have implemented a widespread surveillance system that is efficiently testing entire cities every day, at a neighborhood and building level, by detecting the virus in sewer systems.
Pablo Calabuig, CEO of GoAigua US, talks about how the combination of Analytics and Sewer monitoring can help reduce Covid-19 infection rates in this interview with global water strategist Walid Khoury.
Q. How did you manage to move into wastewater-based epidemiology for Covid-19?
In 2016 we partnered with the Spanish National Research Agency to start detecting traces of hepatitis, norovirus and other kinds of viruses in the sewer to see, from a research perspective, how the seasonal evolution of these viruses was behaving in different Spanish populations. This allowed us to prepare our environmental laboratory in Spain to be able to handle microbiology and viruses.
This research concluded by the end of 2019, and Spain was one of the first countries in 2020 to be hardly hit by the virus. So in February we reengaged this research agency in Spain to adapt this methodology, and apply it to detect Covid-19 in sewer water. My laboratory colleagues worked really hard and the methodology was finally developed.
Because we are also a digital company that was born out of Global Omnium, the original water utility, what we did was to integrate all the systems and the data that come from the utility and from the health and demographic system into one platform. So we integrated all the results from the laboratory in real time with data like GIS, hydraulic data or consumption, but also with demographics (population over 65 years, vulnerable population, number of hospital beds, nursing home facilities, people…).
We created a system that is continuously doing analytics and providing health officials with real time data about what to do and how to act if the trends of concentration of the virus change, at a very granular level, at a neighborhood or sewer shed levels. That was what we developed over the last months and we have been applying to different cities.
Q. I think that this holistic approach of looking at all type of sets of data makes a difference. Can you tell us more about what is happening in Valencia?
Valencia is the first Spanish city where we applied this after showing that it was very successful. Today, more than 20 cities have joined the project and we are surveilling about 10 million people in the whole country. We are starting to do it also in the United States, where different cities and universities are even asking us to help them.
The case of Valencia is very unique because it was the first city where we did it. It has one million people in total, and we splitted the city into approximately 30 sewer sheds or service areas, according to the sewer topology.
We have been analyzing about three times a week the concentration of covid-19 in the sewer in all these points. By using this data in combination with nursing facilities, number of people over 65 and real numbers of infection rates, we realized that we could anticipate official data by 1 to 2 weeks, and use this system as an early warning system to help officials.
We also realized that the system could be used in combination with many other actions that the city and the region were actually taking, for example, very efficient contact tracing protocols or directing PCR testing to specific areas. We recently detected four cases of covid-19 in nursing homes, where we are also testing the sewer at the exit, so they tested everyone and isolated the positive cases.
Today, Valencia is one of the lowest regions in terms of infection rates in Spain, it is almost 10 times lower than Madrid, for example, and it is at the lowest levels in Europe at the moment. The success is the result of the combination of different strategies.
Q. It’s very impressive. I had a discussion with Professor Dragan Savic early in August and he mentioned about sewer monitoring. And back then, many people were skeptical about the technology, and you have done a great job demonstrating that it works and it helps to save lives.
Thank you. Yes, I know Dragan and he is doing a great job here as well. They are saving a lot of lives. At the end it is about helping health officials and authorities have more data to make decisions. This is not going to solve the problem, but the data that you get from here is very cost effective and it is very indicative of what is going to happen in the coming days. The more that we can do, the best.
Wastewater-based epidemiology for COVID-19. Video available on demand: Interview Pablo Calabuig – Walid Khoury
GoAigua SARS Analytics
GoAigua SARS Analytics shows the concentration of COVID-19 in wastewater in real time. It also allows to identify the sources of the pandemic and to alert public authorities in order to anticipate possible outbreaks.
The solution integrates in a single management point the coordination and planning of the sampling, analysis and follow-up of laboratory results, and the real-time monitoring of key indicators.
Managers are guided through the different stages of monitoring, from the implementation process to data analysis and decision-making. The solution is already implemented in Valencia, Spain, with results verified by the Spanish public research center IATA-CSIC.