City of Burlington’s Wastewater Monitoring Program Has Detected Mutations Associated with a Covid-19 Variant

February 11, 2021 
Contact: Olivia LaVecchia 
(802) 734-0617 

City of Burlington’s Wastewater Monitoring Program Has Detected Mutations Associated with a Covid-19 Variant

Information serves as an early warning system for Burlington community and an alert to exercise extra caution; Results indicate very limited prevalence of mutations associated with variant to date


Burlington, VT – Late yesterday afternoon, the City of Burlington received test results from its Covid-19 Wastewater Monitoring Program that detected evidence of two Covid-19 mutations that are associated with the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first detected in the United Kingdom. Though this finding will not be definitive until it is confirmed through genomic sequencing, it indicates that the B.1.1.7 variant is likely now present in Burlington at a low level. The B.1.1.7 variant has been found in 34 U.S. states according to the C.D.C., and has not previously been identified in Vermont. 

“As we have anticipated would happen, we now have strong indication that the more transmissible variant of Covid-19 that originated in the U.K. is circulating here in Burlington,” said Mayor Miro Weinberger. “By identifying this early, while there appear to be very low levels of the new variant, we have an opportunity to heighten our vigilance and slow the spread of this more contagious form of the virus in the weeks ahead – which will be critical weeks when many of our most vulnerable community members will receive the vaccine. It is now more important than ever that Burlingtonians practice the public health strategies that have served us so well over the last year.” 

The mutations associated with the variant were located in a sample from the City’s Main Wastewater Treatment Plant, which serves the City’s downtown, Old North End, South End, and parts of the Hill Section. These mutations have not yet been identified in samples from the City’s two other treatment plants, indicating limited spread in the community to date. 

Wastewater monitoring data is best used to indicate the detection or non-detection of the virus and to indicate trends over time, and cannot be used to determine how many people may be sick with Covid-19. However, the volume of the mutations associated with the variant identified at this point is so low as to be close to the level of detection, which also suggests that if the variant is present in the Burlington community it is not yet widespread. Further, the City’s Wastewater Monitoring Program is currently showing a low overall concentration of Covid-19 RNA on a generally stable or downward trend across different parts of the City. 

What this detection means for Burlington residents 

It is estimated that the B.1.1.7 variant spreads 30 to 40 percent more quickly than the strain of Covid-19 that is currently prevalent in the community. If the variant is now present in Burlington, this means that it will be even more important for Burlington residents to be vigilant in implementing all of the tactics that we have learned over the past 11 months. These include: 

  • Sharing this news with friends and neighbors so that everyone is aware that this is a period of higher risk, and can make decisions accordingly. 
  • Continuing to avoid gathering with other households and following State guidance. 
  • Wearing high-quality face coverings that are well-fitted to reduce gaps around the face and have two or more layers. 
  • Getting a test for Covid-19 if you have any symptoms, have traveled, or have attended a social gathering. 
  • Getting a vaccine for Covid-19 if you are eligible, and reaching out to family and neighbors to make sure that those who are eligible have the information and assistance that they need to register. 

About the City’s Wastewater Monitoring Program 

In August 2020, the City launched its Wastewater Monitoring Program to look for Covid-19 RNA in the wastewater at the City’s three Wastewater Treatment Plants. In mid-January, the City added testing for the B.1.1.7 variant of Covid-19 to this program. 

Wastewater-based epidemiology, or wastewater monitoring of Covid-19, is based on the fact that many people shed the Covid-19 virus in their stool, and that this can be detected five to seven days before clinical testing. Through the program, the City samples the wastewater (or sewage) that is entering its three treatment plants. The City’s project partner and lab partner (GoAigua and GT Molecular, respectively) then analyze this sample to determine the number of gene copies of the virus that are present. 

This program is a collaboration between the City of Burlington, the Vermont Department of Health, GoAigua Inc., and GT Molecular LLC, and it has included participating research partners at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center and the University of Vermont. It is important to note that this program has no impact on the City’s tap water – these readings come from the wastewater that comes into the plant before it is treated, and all sewage is then treated and disinfected to remove bacteria and viruses (including Covid-19). 

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