Virginia using wastewater testing at community and building levels

Published: Feb. 15, 2022 at 4:16 PM EST
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The University of Virginia is no longer using the sewer to help it track COVID-19 outbreaks. It says it paused its wastewater testing late last year.

Now, the commonwealth is using this practice to stay one step ahead of outbreaks across Virginia. It is testing at both a building and community level to stop asymptomatic outbreaks before they spread.

“UVA has been doing wastewater testing, not so much at a community level to understand public health transmission but more as an approach for pooled-surveillance testing on a group of people that live in a building,” Doctor Amy Mathers with UVA Health said.

This acts as an early warning system that there may be asymptomatic transmission in a building. The Virginia Department of Health is also doing this testing but across multiple areas.

“We started back in September 2021, and we are taking a weekly sample from these 25 wastewater treatment plant across the state,” Doctor Rekha Singh with VDH said.

“They’ve picked different communities around the state to really look at wastewater as a way to monitor at sort of the community level, taking a wastewater treatment plant getting water from that facility, and then looking at if they can find early warning to signal that can then be used to inform public health policy,” Dr. Mathers said.

This helps preserve testing resources.

“Pooled testing or wastewater surveillance testing can act as that early-warning system instead of testing everybody every other day with individualized testing,” Dr. Mathers said.

However there are some drawbacks: “If there’s a high rate of positivity in the pool, all you know is there’s people that have COVID-19 in this building, and you have to go and individually test every one of them at that point to find out who it is and separate out the population,” Dr. Mathers said.

“Not every community is on the wastewater treatment plant, they are served by on site septic systems, so we will not be able to monitor those folks who are not on the wastewater treatment plant,” Dr. Singh said.

Dr. Mathers says another benefit to wastewater testing is that it can help keep track of new emerging variants.

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