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Hampton Roads Sanitation District tracking omicron, other illnesses in wastewater

The Hampton Roads Sanitation District has started testing its samples for the flu and other respiratory viruses.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — For the past two weeks, scientists with Hampton Roads Sanitation District have tested wastewater samples for the COVID-19 omicron variant. 

The sanitation district is a subdivision of Virginia's government, and is in charge of treating waste to protect public health and the commonwealth's waterways.

Environmental Scientist Dr. Raul Gonzalez said the district found a mutation of omicron mixed with another variant.

“We’re working on another test to confirm that," he said. "Essentially, a PCR test, and we do have that in-house and we will probably have that up and going this week.”

This data helps identify which areas are seeing an increase in cases and how the health department can respond to slowing the spread. That could mean hosting a vaccine clinic, or bringing COVID-19 tests into the area. 

Gonzalez said HRSD will also use their samples to track other illnesses.

“Our collaborators have asked if we could monitor for flu, because they want to get a heads up for when flu was entering our region,” he said.

He said that data will alert health departments to begin testing for the flu and other respiratory viruses. He said his team didn't expect this research to stretch so far.

“For us when we started in early 2020… I can tell you that we never thought that we’d have this big of a part in the pandemic," he said. "But I’m so glad we are."

If you want to know how to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in Hampton Roads, you can click here.

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