Wastewater Surveillance for COVID-19

Wastewater Surveillance Sentinel Monitoring Program

Program Background

SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19. Virus particles can be shed in feces (stool) by people infected with COVID-19 even before symptoms develop. People with no symptoms (asymptomatic infection) can also shed the virus in feces. Wastewater, or sewage, is water from toilets, showers, kitchens, and laundries used by our homes, businesses, and schools. The area served by a wastewater treatment plant is called a “sewershed.” Public health can count the amount of SARS-CoV-2 virus in wastewater because of this “fecal shedding”. By the time the virus leaves the body in feces, it is no longer active and cannot cause new COVID-19 infections. CDC has no reports of COVID-19 cases from wastewater. 

Public health can use wastewater surveillance to learn more about the burden of COVID-19 in the community. Wastewater surveillance can show if COVID-19 is increasing or decreasing in the community 6 to 14 days before a COVID-19 diagnosis. This type of public health surveillance can be used as an early warning tool to watch for changes.

VDH collects samples from 36 wastewater treatment plants in Virginia each week. Wastewater surveillance started on September 13, 2021. This represents a population of approximately 4.3 million people. Virginia has more than 1,250 wastewater treatment plants, but with the 36 being sampled, over one-third of the population is represented by the current program. The samples are collected at the wastewater treatment plant before any significant processing by the facility. The Virginia Department of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS) tests each sample for SARS-CoV-2 virus. The amount (concentration) of the virus shows how much COVID-19 is in the communities served by that wastewater treatment plant. 

VDH is participating in a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity (ELC) cooperative agreement to implement enhanced surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater to augment other COVID-19 surveillance data to inform epidemiologic and public health needs. The CDC has initiated a National Wastewater Surveillance System (NWSS) that has been accepting data on wastewater surveillance from participating states. The states receive data from utilities and analytical laboratories and upload the data into the NWSS portal. VDH works with CDC to evaluate the data, look for ways to use the data to expand our understanding of COVID-19, create data dashboards, and otherwise use the data to combat COVID-19.

Sample Collection and Laboratory Methods

Additional Resources and Opportunities

Frequently Asked Questions

Meet Our Team

Rekha Singh, Ph.D., MPH – Wastewater Surveillance Program Manager, rekha.singh@vdh.virginia.gov

Haniyyah Majeed, MS – Technical Program Specialist, haniyyah.majeed@vdh.virginia.gov

Michelle Yancey, MPH – Wastewater Surveillance Data Manager, michelle.yancey@vdh.virginia.gov

Isaiah Omerhi, MPH – Environmental Epidemiologist,   isaiah.omerhi@vdh.virginia.gov