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Chesapeake Health Department using data from wastewater testing for COVID-19 to get communities vaccinated

Hampton Roads Sanitation Districts partnered with the Chesapeake Health Department on a project to send the department weekly case trends in the area.

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — The Chesapeake Health Department is using a new way to get people vaccinated. For more than a year, the Hampton Roads Sanitation District has been testing COVID-19 in wastewater. Now, they’re working with the Chesapeake Health Department on a new effort.

“They were aware of our regional surveillance that we’ve been doing weekly since March of 2020 and somewhere along the way in that time frame, they reached out and said, ‘We think this is really useful,’” said Kyle Curtis, an environmental scientist for Hampton Roads Sanitation District: 

Curtis said they will send data to the Chesapeake Health Department weekly. From there, the health department will use this information to identify rising COVID-19 cases and hold vaccine events in those areas.

“We need to communicate with the local clinic to encourage the people in the community either to get vaccinated or take action,” said Old Dominion University Environmental Health Professor Dr. Anna Jeng.

Dr. Jeng is spearheading research for this project. She said local health departments don’t think there’s enough information to target communities dealing with a case surge. 

She said testing for COVID-19 through wastewater is an effective solution.

“We can use these samples to monitor all the people either affected by COVID or not.”

They’ve been doing this for the last 12 weeks. Because of it, the health department is monitoring five areas in Chesapeake with COVID-19 cases.

Dr. Jeng said this project is working.

“We believe so because in the first week of August we saw a spike in the COVID-19 cases and I think we got a message out," she said. "Then the following week, we started to see COVID cases decrease.”

"They’ve mobilized each time that’s happened out to those catchments and they’ve put in place education and testing and vaccination for multiple days,” Curtis said.

Hampton Roads Sanitation District had plans to work with the Chesapeake Health Department for three months.

They say they’re seeing progress with this project and hope to continue it in the future.