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Wastewater Disease Surveillance Dashboard

Wastewater disease surveillance is a new tool used by health departments across the globe. When people are sick with COVID-19, they shed the virus in their waste which then collects in wastewater treatment plants. Laboratories can measure the amount of virus in wastewater by collection site (or sewer shed) and use it to determine if COVID-19 cases are changing.

The Milwaukee Health Department (MHD) works with the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) on COVID-19 wastewater surveillance for the Jones Island and South Shore sewersheds. MMSD sends the health department two wastewater samples every week on Mondays and Thursdays. These samples are used to determine the amount of COVID-19 in our community. This dashboard shows when COVID-19 levels are decreasing, increasing, or staying constant.


People living in Milwaukee County can use this dashboard (and wastewater information) to protect themselves. The COVID-19 wastewater concentration trendline and the Stoplight Warning system will tell you if COVID-19 is changing in the community. Knowing when (and where) COVID-19 trends are changing can help you decide when to take COVID-19 safety measures.

Based on the COVID-19 Categories, safety measures could be: 

Wastewater Dashboard FAQ

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  Why is wastewater data used by the Milwaukee Health Department?
  • The COVID-19 virus can be found in feces days before sick people display symptoms if they display signs at all

  • Wastewater data makes it possible to see changes in COVID-19 cases before they happen

  • With common COVID-19 tests (i.e., at-home tests, clinical PCR tests), we can only see a rise in cases as it is happening

  • Knowing when cases are changing can give health agencies, clinics, and you a chance to prepare before a rise in COVID-19 cases is seen in clinics and hospitalization rates

  • An early warning can be used to decide COVID-19 response plans like where to place resources and staff to help reduce the impact of a rise in COVID-19 cases

  • The wastewater data also informs the COVID-19 Stoplight Warning system on the dashboard

  How does the health department get wastewater data?

The Milwaukee Health Department collaborates with the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) to get wastewater data from the greater Milwaukee area.

  1. MMSD collects wastewater samples from the Jones Island and South Shore water reclamation facilities.

  2. Those samples are given to the lab twice a week and are processed to determine if there is COVID-19 in Milwaukee's sewer shed.

  3. The data produced by the lab is presented as the average number of COVID-19 gene copies per person per day.

  4. This information is then used to see if COVID-19 cases are increasing, decreasing, or constant in the Milwaukee area.

  What are limitations of wastewater disease surveillance?

Wastewater data is useful in deciding COVID-19 trends to help plan emergency responses, but there are some limitations:

  • It is not possible to use wastewater data to confirm cases of COVID-19 in individual people

  • Wastewater surveillance is new, and the tests used to get this data can be different between states and health departments

  • This data can only be used to look at COVID-19 trends in the communities of the Jones Island and South Shore sewer sheds