It is becoming increasingly difficult to identify spikes in Covid cases due to a contract disagreement.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to identify spikes in Covid cases due to a contract disagreement.

Due to a contract disagreement, a significant portion of the country’s wastewater testing locations, which are a reliable method of monitoring Covid outbreaks, are currently closed without a set date for reopening.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to switch the company it has been collaborating with since 2020 to analyze sewage for Covid in order to improve the allocation of public health resources. However, Biobot, a Massachusetts-based company, has raised an objection, delaying the transition process.

State health officials are preparing for an increase in Covid cases as the temperature drops, but they are concerned because there is limited surveillance data due to fewer people being tested or using unreported at-home tests.

Chad Gubala, a wastewater official in Juneau, Alaska, expressed his worry about the uninterrupted collection of surveillance data during the ongoing protest.

Following a competitive bidding process earlier this year, the CDC made the decision to replace their longtime contractor, Biobot, with Verily, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company. The change will take effect in September.

However, the progression has been halted. As the Government Accountability Office reviews Biobot’s appeal, Verily is unable to continue their work, according to an email from the company obtained by POLITICO. A decision from the GAO is expected in January.

The principal scientist for the Verily wastewater lab, Bradley White, stated that the company is fully prepared and has already established a significant portion of its infrastructure.

White stated that they are dedicated to collaborating with the CDC to further the objectives of the testing program. They also plan to begin testing on the delivered samples as soon as they are permitted to resume their work, and strive to provide timely access to wastewater data.

During an interview, Mandy Cohen, the Director of the CDC, chose not to discuss the details of the disagreement and referred to it as a “contracting situation.”

The CDC has not provided a reason for its decision to switch contractors, but its agreement with Verily is significantly more cost-effective.

Verily’s agreement is worth $38 million and spans a period of five years. Biobot’s latest contract amounted to approximately $31 million and lasted less than 18 months.

Cohen stated that the agency views monitoring wastewater as a valuable addition to our resources for detecting issues early. She expressed her desire to broaden the scope of testing through the new contract.

During the pandemic, conducting wastewater testing proved to be highly beneficial in identifying spikes in Covid cases. As there has been a decrease in individuals getting tested for the virus, wastewater testing remains one of the most effective methods for tracking the spread of the virus.

Wastewater has been utilized by public health authorities to detect the presence of Mpox and surges in the consumption of opioids.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that around 400 testing sites in a few states and territories, which make up a quarter of the total testing sites in the country, are currently closed due to an ongoing disagreement. The remaining 1,200 sites are not affected by this dispute and can continue their operations as usual.

A representative from the CDC stated that they believed it was sufficient to maintain a “thorough” understanding of the spread of Covid and Mpox, but some are doubtful.

According to an epidemiologist from a state health department who is not allowed to speak publicly, there will continue to be a lack of data on wastewater for potentially several months due to the upcoming flu season and potential increase in Covid cases. It is not a simple solution to simply hand over control to Verily.

Another health department representative, who was not permitted to speak publicly, also expressed concerns that switching vendors could negatively impact efforts to monitor Covid in the upcoming autumn and winter months. They stated, “It takes time to change course and complete the switch.”

Despite the possibility of Verily starting work promptly, some predict issues with maintaining data consistency.

David Larsen, a researcher in wastewater surveillance and chair of the public health department at Syracuse University, stated that the loss incurred is the loss of historical comparability. This can be likened to starting from the beginning with a completely new surveillance system, which is far from ideal as it involves changing methods.

A representative from the CDC stated that the matter will be dealt with, but did not disclose the approach that will be taken.

Biobot refused to provide a statement regarding the demonstration, citing an “ongoing examination of legal matters.”

Mariana Matus, the CEO, shared in a LinkedIn post that the company has already terminated 35% of its employees due to the contract choice.

Matus stated that this choice was not influenced by our previous achievements.

This report was contributed by Chelsea Cirruzzo.