Page 48 - FCW, September/October 2021
P. 48

Virginia expands
wastewater surveillance
State officials are strategically sampling wastewater to quickly identify and address community infection levels
The Virginia Department of Health has launched a statewide wastewa- ter surveillance program to spot trends in COVID-19 infection rates.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, virus particles are detectable in sewage before cases are reported to public health officials, which means strategic sampling of wastewater can provide information on infection trends at the community level, said Rekha Singh, wastewater surveillance manager at VDH.
Furthermore, “it can be used as an independent tool even without access to clinical testing, so it can be very useful in places where there is lack of access to health care facilities,” Singh said.
Virginia’s Hampton Roads Sanita- tion District (HRSD) and Chesapeake Health Department were among the first localities to perform such studies when the pandemic began. VDH is now receiving wastewater data from those two entities and from 25 other sites that were selected based on geographical location and population-testing rates.
Participating sewage treatment plants collect samples each week and send them to the state lab, which coor- dinates the analysis and forwards the data to VDH. The department and the local entities use the results to improve
their testing and vaccination outreach efforts.
Visualizing results and
understanding trends
VDH is joining other states in submit- ting the data to a new CDC database created under the National Wastewa- ter Surveillance System. “There is no database for any other type of sewage surveillance, but [the CDC is] looking at this potentially as a model that could be used for other types of infections,” said Marcia Degen, an environmental tech- nical services manager at VDH’s Office
of Environmental Health Services. She added that there are no safety concerns associated with the project. “When we’re monitoring this virus in the wastewater, the virus is not active.... There have been no reported infections from somebody coming in contact with wastewater or sewage,”
she said.
Kyle Curtis, an environmental sci-
entist in HRSD’s Water Quality Depart- ment, said the district’s lab has experi- ence quantifying viruses in wastewater for research purposes. Since the first week of March 2020, researchers have
46 September/October 2021 FCW.COM
HRSD is tracking viral load in wastewater at its treatment facilities. These weekly maps show load levels by neighborhood and are normalized to account for differences in population density.

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