Wastewater Surveillance for COVID-19

How is wastewater surveillance used to track COVID-19?

Wastewater epidemiology uses markers in raw wastewater to gather data on the population served by a wastewater treatment plant.  Successful studies have focused on pharmaceuticals and drugs, to name a few. The disease known as COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Wastewater surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 is based on the knowledge that infected persons shed the viral particles in their feces. To date, all published research indicates that the virus is inactivated (it is no longer infective) as it passes through the intestines, but the RNA fragments remain and can be detected in wastewater. CDC reports no substantiated transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to humans via fecal transmission. Wastewater surveillance has appeal because a single sample can ‘test’ a large population, it picks up both asymptomatic and symptomatic individuals, and it detects the virus about 7 days ahead of clinical reports.

CDC National Wastewater Surveillance System (NWSS)

The Virginia Department of Health (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. Wastewater, or sewage, can be tested for RNA from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Pathogen monitoring in wastewater has been used in the surveillance of other infectious diseases, such as polio.

The CDC has initiated a National Wastewater Surveillance System (NWSS) that will accept data on wastewater surveillance from participating states. The states will receive data from utilities and analytical laboratories and upload the data into the NWSS portal. VDH will work 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.

Are you interested in learning more about how you can participate?

Join us for our Community of Practice (CoP) meeting on Wednesday, October 27, 2021, at 11:00 AM. VDH will be using this CoP to keep utilities, analytical laboratories, researchers, and additional partners up to date with our needs to improve wastewater surveillance in the State of Virginia.

Presentation topic: Working with Media: Communicate for Understanding: Matching Message with the Audience

Join the Webex meeting using this link and the following details:

Meeting number (access code): 132 530 7948

Meeting password: VfAU3e8U4EX

Toll-free dial-in (US): 1-844-992-4726


Please complete the form at this link to submit your contact information to join our CoP listserv.

Meeting slides for the May CoP are available here.

Meeting slides for the June CoP are available here.

Meeting slides for the July CoP are available here.

Meeting slides for the August CoP are available here.

Meeting slides for the September CoP are available here.

Sentinel Monitoring Application

VDH has applied for funding from CDC to support the analysis of wastewater samples for SARS-CoV-2 in the development of a statewide sentinel monitoring program. Up to 25 sites will be selected in the state to provide broad screening for the virus and tracking of the prevalence. In anticipation of the funding that would start August 1, 2021, and run through July 31, 2022, VDH is polling utilities to assess their willingness to participate in a sampling program and the appropriateness of the site with regard to location, population served and other epidemiological concerns. Participation means committing to collecting a sample of wastewater at weekly intervals, following procedures for sample collection, sample handling, and shipping the sample to the designated testing laboratory. All costs for shipping and the analysis will be covered by VDH. The treatment facility is asked to provide personnel and any equipment needed to physically collect the sample. Please complete an application for each facility to be considered using the Google Form available at this link.

This project is separate from the current HHS Phase 2 sampling project that is being conducted by BioBot.  If you are enrolled in the BioBot program, please consider applying for this VDH program as well.  We can work with you to delay the start of sampling for VDH until the Phase 2 sampling is complete. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions at rekha.singh@vdh.virginia.gov

Meet Our Team

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

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

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