SFO tests air travel wastewater for COVID-19 variants
San Francisco International Airport made history by recently testing wastewater from international passengers for COVID-19 variants, becoming the first U.S. airport to do so. The main objective of this initiative is to gain insight into the global movement of COVID-19, with the aim of developing better vaccination treatments and to stay ahead of the pandemic.
As Doug Yakel, SFO spokesperson, explains, the focus is on providing useful information for future vaccination development: “Now, what it’s more focused on is informing future vaccination development, and if we’re going to get an annual booster, what is the best cocktail if you will, what is the best combination?”
To carry out this unique test, the airport collects wastewater from the plane carrying international passengers, which is then taken to a laboratory managed by a division of Ginkgo Bioworks based in Boston. The samples are then tested for COVID-19.
Andrew Franklin of Ginkgo Bioworks explains that this testing method provides an early warning system for health officials, not just in the United States but also worldwide, enabling them to forecast potential diseases that may spread across the globe. He stated, “Ideally giving us, you know, early warning not just of what’s in the United States but what may be moving around the globe and what may be coming here.”
Although governments already test wastewater samples for COVID-19 variants, the international airport’s initiative takes things to a higher level, enabling health officials to monitor the global movement of the virus in greater detail. Franklin said the airport’s initiative “allows us to see what’s coming into the country, so it gives us a more global perspective.”
According to the CDC, monitoring international travel is an effective way to track COVID-19 variants, helping to detect the emergence of outbreaks before they can spread from country to country.
The San Francisco International Airport’s initiative has shown the great potential of testing wastewater samples beyond the traditional public health approach. It has the potential to support governments worldwide combat the spread of COVID-19 by providing valuable information about the global movement of the virus.