4 ways passive monitoring can revamp the fight against COVID-19

May 18 2022

We get it—the pandemic always seems to ask more of us. Protecting each other from COVID-19 outbreaks takes a lot of hands-on work. As the virus continues to spread and evolve, tools for mitigating it must dampen the sweat equity needed for effective testing.

Imagine getting a broader snapshot of community health without expanding individual testing. Passive monitoring takes samples directly from the shared environment, covering entire communities in the background of day-to-day living. No additional nasal swabs or saliva samples needed!

With passive monitoring, we hope that we can be able to detect pathogens—just by breathing (something we do without thinking) or using the bathroom (one thing we all do but we’d rather not think about too much). 

Air monitoring’s potential has us on cloud 9

Both symptomatic and asymptomatic people can emit virus particles through respiratory aerosols generated by breathing, coughing, eating, and talking. With an air monitoring device in a communal setting like an office kitchen, a cafeteria, or a classroom, we are hoping that organizations will be able to track whether COVID-19 has made its way into a facility.

We’ve been excited about air monitoring’s potential for a long time. In February, we launched our very own air monitoring pilot at Ginkgo’s headquarters in Boston. Testing out multiple technologies and operational models within our facilities is teaching us about how to best design air monitoring pilot programs for our partners. We have plenty of air-related puns left over from our monitor naming contest ready to roll, too! (Some of our favorite machines were nicknamed Draft Punk, Airiana Grande, and Buenos Aires 😂) 

Some of the many names our team came up with for our air monitors.

Wastewater monitoring is already making waves 

Wastewater monitoring is a proven pathogen detection method that can flesh out (or should that be flush out? 💩) the COVID-19 situation in a facility, neighborhood, or entire city. Many individuals, ahem, shed SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in the bathroom days before showing symptoms. Combining wastewater monitoring with viral genomic sequencing can give us an earlier idea of how prevalent the virus or sub-variants are, giving us a warning signal we can act on. 

On the wastewater front, we’ve partnered with Biobot Analytics to conduct viral sequencing on more than 2,000 wastewater samples across all 50 states, a groundbreaking R&D effort within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ national wastewater-based disease monitoring program. 

In April, we launched a new pilot with partners Stanford University and Dysert Environmental to test and sequence wastewater at two schools in Menlo Park, CA. The Menlo Park City School District conducts weekly pooled testing, and one of our main goals of the pilot is understanding how to use wastewater monitoring and routine asymptomatic testing together. Unlocking that ability could allow communities to make more informed public health decisions. 

4 reasons to embrace passive monitoring as a public health tool

  1. Earlier detection and monitoring of COVID-19 at the community level can provide early warning signals
  2. Population-level data for informed public health decisions
  3. Continuous monitoring without disrupting daily activities
  4. Flexibility to customize as part of other COVID-19 public health strategies

COVID-19 will continue to test our resolve. Remaining vigilant about community health is vital. Passive monitoring could be just what we need to reinvigorate our spirits.

Concentric’s passive offerings use a lab-based real-time PCR methodology to detect viral RNA. We’re looking for innovative partners to help us maximize its potential. 

The process is collaborative, customizable, and designed around your organization’s specific needs. Reach out to discuss how you can use passive monitoring to deliver community health information for your organization!

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