Monitoring the Presence of SARS-CoV-2 Virus in Surface Waters Connected to Public Recreation Sites

2020 Fast-Track Grant Project

Project purpose

To monitor surface water near eight Duluth-area beaches for the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease.

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Why do this?

The project seeks to provide sound, scientific information that public officials, the tourism industry, and Minnesotans can use to make informed decisions about water recreation activity.

Project description

Minnesota Sea Grant funded a research project to test for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, at eight Duluth-area beaches during the summer of 2020. Water samples from each beach were taken once each week (Friday through Sunday) from August through the end of September. Tests of each water sample took about three to four days to process. The tests were used to tell us two things: 

1. If there was detectable evidence of humans in the water. This is done by checking for the presence of a pepper virus (pepper mild mottle virus - PMMoV) that appears in the feces of people who have eaten peppers. Animals do not typically eat peppers, so the presence of the pepper virus is how we tell people were in the water.  

2. If there is any detectable SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, in the sampled water. 


September 2020 summary of project results.



This project is supported by a Minnesota Sea Grant 2020 Program Development Grant.

Lead scientist(s)

Richard Melvin
Assistant Professor
Department of Biomedical Sciences

University of Minnesota Medical School
University of Minnesota Duluth


  • Minnesota Department of Health, State/Local Government
  • University of Minnesota, Medical School - Duluth, Academic Institution (College and University)
  • University of Minnesota, Institute for Health Informatics, Academic Institution (College and University)
  • University of Minnesota, School of Public Health, Academic Institution (College and University)