COVID Wastewater testing continues in western Virginia

Published: Dec. 30, 2020 at 8:05 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Testing individuals for COVID-19 has provided some of the most important information public health officials have used to fight the pandemic.

Testing wastewater for markers of the virus is also helping them understand how the virus is spreading in western Virginia.

A testing program we first profiled last summer continues, as wastewater enters the Regional Water Pollution Control Plant and in other locations served by the Western Virginia Water Authority.

When we watched the set-up for a sampling site in June, the Western Virginia Water Authority had been testing for the prevalence of COVID-19 for just a few weeks.

But the authority and its partners have been at it ever since, detecting inactive markers of the virus and giving health officials an early warning when cases are climbing.

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

“The Virginia Department of Health can see what’s coming,” Baumgardner said in an interview Wednesday morning. “Where are the spikes going to happen? Where are the communities that may be having problems? It allows them to direct their marketing messaging.”

Since we first reported on the testing program last summer, the Water Authority has partnered with Radford University Carilion. Students are now helping to collect the samples. That, says Baumgardner, will pay dividends during the current pandemic and in the future.

“We know this is not the last virus that will come through our community or through the world,” Baumgardner said. “And we have this framework in place with the students being able to go out and do the testing. We have labs already set up to do this type of testing. And so we really feel like we’re being proactive not only for this virus, but for whatever comes next.”

Testing funded by the Centers for Disease Control will begin in January at the water pollution control plant.

And a partnership with the University of Virginia will continue as well, providing neighborhood testing in the Roanoke Valley.

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