Legal and Ethical Implications of Wastewater Sars-CoV-2 Monitoring for COVID-19 Surveillance

Journal of Law and the Biosciences, 2020

21 Pages Posted: 26 May 2020 Last revised: 10 Jun 2020

See all articles by Lance Gable

Lance Gable

Wayne State University Law School

Natalie Ram

University of Maryland Carey School of Law

Jeffrey Ram

Wayne State University - School of Medicine

Date Written: May 24, 2020

Abstract

Scientists have observed that molecular markers for COVID-19 can be detected in wastewater of infected communities both during an outbreak and, in some cases, before the first case is confirmed. The CDC and other government entities are considering whether to add community surveillance through wastewater monitoring to assist in tracking disease prevalence and guiding public health responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. This scientific breakthrough may lead to many useful potential applications for tracking disease, intensifying testing, initiating social distancing or quarantines, and even lifting restrictions once a cessation of infection is detected and confirmed. Yet, new technologies developed in response to a public health crisis may raise difficult legal and ethical questions about how such technologies may impact both the public health and civil liberties of the population. This Article describes recent scientific evidence regarding COVID-19 detection in wastewater, identifying public health benefits that may result from this breakthrough, as well as the limitations of existing data. The Article then assesses the legal and ethical implications of implementing policy based on positive sewage signals. It concludes that the first step to implementing legal and ethical wastewater monitoring is to develop scientific understanding. Even if reliability and efficacy are established, limits on sample and data collection, use, and sharing, must also be considered to prevent undermining privacy and autonomy in order to implement these public health strategies consistent with legal and ethical considerations.

Keywords: Monitoring, Privacy, Public Health, Quarantine, Sewage, Surveillance, Health Education and Welfare, Health Behavior, Government Policy, Regulation, Public Health

Suggested Citation

Gable, Lance and Ram, Natalie and Ram, Jeffrey, Legal and Ethical Implications of Wastewater Sars-CoV-2 Monitoring for COVID-19 Surveillance (May 24, 2020). Journal of Law and the Biosciences, 2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3609100 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3609100

Lance Gable

Wayne State University Law School ( email )

471 Palmer
Detroit, MI 48202
United States

Natalie Ram

University of Maryland Carey School of Law ( email )

500 West Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201-1786
United States

Jeffrey Ram (Contact Author)

Wayne State University - School of Medicine ( email )

Detroit, MI 48201
United States

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