Publication date: Sep 20, 2023
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, wastewater surveillance has emerged as a public health tool that supplements traditional surveillance methods used to detect the prevalence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in communities. In May 2020, the Houston Health Department (HHD) partnered with a coalition of municipal and academic partners to develop a wastewater monitoring and reporting system for the city of Houston, Texas. The HHD subsequently launched a program to conduct targeted wastewater sampling at 52 school sites located in a large, urban school district in Houston. Data generated by this program are shared with school district officials and nurses from participating schools. Although initial feedback from these stakeholders indicated that they considered the wastewater data valuable, the emergency nature of the pandemic prevented a systematic evaluation of the program. To address this gap in knowledge, the HHD and Rice University conducted a study to determine how wastewater data are used to make decisions about COVID-19 prevention and mitigation practices in schools. Our findings indicate that maximizing the utility of wastewater data in the school context will require the development of communication strategies and education efforts tailored to the needs of specific audiences and improving collaboration between local health departments, school districts, and school nurses.