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Health, Virginia

Virginia Department of Health tracking feces for COVID-19 infection database

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You thought you’d heard the last of COVID-19, the virus that led to unprecedented lockdowns throughout most of the world. The public health emergency expired on May 11.

But alas, Virginia health officials are still tracking SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The Virginia Department of Health has added a wastewater surveillance dashboard to its COVID-19 dashboards.

The dashboard shows how much of the virus is in wastewater sewage in participating communities across the state. The amount of virus present is called the viral load. The dashboard provides information about viral trends and a comparison of wastewater surveillance trends with reported patient case counts. The dashboard will be updated weekly, generally on Tuesday.

In partnership with local utilities, VDH has been conducting wastewater surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 since September 2021 and has shared data with public health officials to inform their decisions about local prevention strategies.

COVID-19 surveillance has evolved over time and this adds to the visibility in the community.

“Used with other data, wastewater data can provide an indicator of community transmission that does not depend on COVID-19 lab testing or health care provider reporting.” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Karen Shelton. “Wastewater surveillance has proven to be a helpful tool in monitoring trends of viruses; we are excited to also explore the potential of utilizing this technology for the fentanyl response, as directed in Governor Youngkin’s Executive Order 26 issued last week.”

The SARS-CoV-2 virus is shed in feces by infected people whether they have symptoms of COVID-19 or not. The virus can be detected in sewage days before a person begins to feel sick.

Currently, 36 wastewater treatment plants are participating in the surveillance initiative.

The plants, located across the Commonwealth, volunteer to collect samples weekly.

The Department of General Services, Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, conducts the laboratory analyses for COVID-19.

The public health initiative is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through an Epidemiology and Lab Capacity Grant.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.