With the novel coronavirus causing major disruptions globally, there is an immediate need to understand sources of exposure, environmental prevalence and approaches for mitigation of transmission. While most work has focused on direct human-to-human transmission or indirect transmission indoors, environmental exposure could play an important role. Work on past Coronaviruses and other pathogenic viruses has demonstrated that they can reach streams and rivers from wastewater inputs, particularly during storm events. Evidence shows that the novel coronavirus, also known as SARS-Cov-2, is present in sewage and coronaviruses can survive in water systems for days. This study will advance understanding of SARS-CoV-2 transfer to and along stream networks in an urban region impacted by the virus. This project will survey streams and rivers in areas of Connecticut impacted by the virus to test for the occurrence of SARS-CoV-2 and assess mechanisms for the spread of the virus in the environment. The project will further train and prepare students on rapid-response research under challenging circumstances.

A primary objective of this work is to understand the transfer of SARS-CoV-2 to stream networks in a region impacted by the virus. In particular, it is hypothesized that major rain events leading to combined sewer overflow (CSO) and Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) overflow will have peak concentrations of SARS-CoV-2. The human or ecological impact of any particular pathogen will thus have the potential to be elevated during these periods of high transfer. Samples will be collected from two different types of systems. The first set will be from a number of smaller streams/rivers to assess transfers to the stream network. These streams and rivers will be chosen based on a history of CSO and WWTP overflow events. Sampling of a forested area will be included as a control for this set of sites. The second set of sites will be on the mainstem of the Connecticut River, which, like many rivers worldwide, has an urban center (Hartford/Springfield) flanking the river near the coast. This common geography leads to a large input of WWTP effluent on the mainstem of the river, with a short travel distance to the coast. Samples from the Connecticut River will be collected upstream of this urban center, within the city center, and downstream of any urban influence. Samples will be mostly collected during large hydrologic events (1-2 inches of precipitation) in the smaller stream/river systems over the next 2-3 months, but more frequently along the Connecticut River main-stem sites. Samples will be analyzed for SARS-CoV-2 using qPCR, DNA and RNA bacteriophages and viruses, chemical markers of WWTP and CSO effluent and a standard suite of standard water quality parameters to document the in-situ conditions during collection. This proposal integrates an interdisciplinary team that will broaden our understanding of SARS-CoV-2 prevalence under a hydrologic framework. The project will support five students across four departments, thus providing interdisciplinary training related to rapid response research and science.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Earth Sciences (EAR)
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Laura Lautz
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Yale University
New Haven
United States
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