The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has “done some very preliminary work” to do wastewater testing with airlines, Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief executive officer for the National Association of County and City Health Officials, said Wednesday. There have been growing concerns among public health officials to ramp up monitoring for coronavirus variants amid a Covid-19 surge in China.
“I think they’ve done some early piloting of one flight, for example, testing the blue water in one flight,” she said, adding that such a program could be expanded to test collections of wastewater from multiple flights or a single airport.
Freeman did not know where or which airline participated in this initial testing of wastewater.
“So they’re looking at that, and it does require some agreements to be made with the airlines and so forth – and then how and when to do this – but it does look like a promising area of surveillance for the future,” she said. “Certainly, expanding the wastewater surveillance just is another data point that can be helpful, and it’s a less-intrusive way of doing disease surveillance.”
United Airlines told CNN that it has “been in touch with the CDC and are evaluating our participation” in the program. CNN has requested comment from the CDC and from other US carriers that service China.
US officials have been concerned about China being truthful and transparent about Covid-19 data.
“We have just limited information in terms of what’s being shared related to number of cases [that] are increasing hospitalizations and especially deaths,” one federal health official told CNN last month. “Also, there’s been a decrease in testing across China. So that also makes it difficult to know what the true infection rate is.”
Starting Thursday, travelers from China must show a negative Covid-19 test result before flying to the US as Beijing’s rapid easing of Covid-19 restrictions leads to a surge in cases. The UK, Australia and Canada are implementing the same measures. The Chinese government has warned that China would take countermeasures against the restrictions.
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China has insisted that its Covid-19 data is transparent despite its strikingly low official figures, given the rapid spread of the virus and the relatively low vaccine booster rates among the elderly. But the US, the World Health Organization and other countries have urged China to share more data. In a call with his Chinese counterpart last month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged China to upload more health data, a US official told CNN.
The Biden administration is not planning, as of now, to impose any punitive measures on China if it does not release more Covid-19 data, a second US official said.