Minnesota adds RSV, influenza to wastewater testing programs

Since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, wastewater testing has been a valuable tool in detecting and monitoring trends with the virus.

Now, new steps are being taken to expand that testing to eventually include illnesses like RSV and influenza.

"Because of COVID-19, we are starting to ask the question, 'Well, what else can we monitor for?'" said Sara Vetter, assistant division director of the public health laboratory at the Minnesota Department of Health.

That's just one of the changes MDH announced on Friday.

The Metropolitan Council will stop its sample testing, and the University of Minnesota and MDH will take over. 

Vetter says this move allows the agency to combine testing done in the metro with the statewide monitoring system. 

"The programs are just evolving and changing and maturing and we are also looking at the long-term success of this program and we want to make sure this is sustainable for the foreseeable future," said Vetter. 

Under the current model, some samples were tested multiple times. 

"Their samples [were] tested a couple times, so we are just streamlining and eliminating that redundancy to have one test method," said Vetter, who adds wastewater testing is especially important given the prevalence of at-home testing.

"When people test at home, they don't report that test to the Department of Health so especially in populations who don't get sick, so wastewater is just another piece of that puzzle. It's another data point we can look at," said Vetter.