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Western Virginia Water Authority tests wastewater for fragments of COVID-19

Published: Jun. 29, 2020 at 9:13 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - In the Roanoke Valley, a new type of COVID-19 testing could provide an early warning system, and help the health department and public officials make informed decisions.

We watched Monday morning as Corey Landis of Pace Analytical prepared equipment that collects a sample of waste water every 15 minutes.

Lacy Burnette, Environmental Programs Specialist with the Western Virginia Water Authority, explained how it works.

“We have tubing inserted into a sanitary manhole, and of course it goes down into the wastewater channel.”

Every day for a few weeks they’ll collect a liter of liquid there, for later testing by the Hampton Roads Sanitation District.

Sarah Baumgardner is the spokesperson for the Western Virginia Water Authority.

“The water authority is participating in a national testing program, where we are looking for fragments of the COVID-19 virus,” Baumgardner told WDBJ7.

Most of the sampling has occurred as wastewater enters the the Roanoke Regional Water Pollution Control Plant, but samples are also being collected in other locations along the regional sewer system.

The goal, Baumgardner said, is to use science, to help the health department and the community make informed decisions.

“This test is like a canary-in-a-coal-mine test, so it gives us a snapshot of what’s going on in the entire community,” she said.

Once the process is refined, public health officials say they hope it will add another valuable tool to their toolbox.

Marcia Degen is the Environmental Technical Services Manager for the Division of Water and Wastewater Services with the Virginia Department of Health.

“We aren’t testing just the people that we know or suspect are positive,” she said in an interview, “it’s an opportunity to check a large portion of the population to see if anybody is carrying and shedding the virus.”

The health department and water authority stress that they are testing for fragments of COVID-19. And there are no reports of transmission between wastewater and people.

They also note that any live virus that reaches the water pollution control plant would be neutralized by the standard wastewater treatment and disinfection procedures.

Copyright 2020 WDBJ. All rights reserved.

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