VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Hampton Roads Sanitation District said it is still tracking COVID-19 cases through wastewater. Meaning, whatever you flush down the toilet, they are tracking each case of COVID-19 that goes with it.
HRSD Environmental Scientist, Raul Gonzalez, said his team helps track viruses of all kinds such as Influenza and the Norovirus. However, their tracking of COVID-19 variants is making an impact on finding trends in Hampton Roads.
Gonzalez says they take samples of wastewater and test for COVID-19. This way, they can find cases of whether or not someone is experiencing symptoms and potentially catch a hotspot before it gets worse.
"With our same samples, we're monitoring our three big variants of concern," said Gonzalez. "We get this early warning. We want to see those upcoming outbreaks happen and so that's why we're not going to stop. "
Back in December of 2020, Gonzalez said they saw a big spike in cases as Virginia entered Phase Three of reopening. Gonzalez said the main contributing factor was because so many people were gathering for the holidays.
He said they found more cases of COVID-19 than what clinical tests showed since it's easier for scientists to find the virus in wastewater. But now, he says their latest data shows the number of cases is dropping
"Our wastewater COVID-19 numbers are mirroring the clinical numbers," said Gonzalez. "So, we haven't seen concentrations this low since October of last year and actually and they are about what they were this time last year, so really low numbers in our region."
Gonzalez said the vaccines are not 100% correlated to this decline, but they do help in keeping the numbers low. He said the proof is all in the waste: masking up and social distancing plays a crucial factor in keeping these trends down.
Gonzalez said his team and local health departments will track COVID-19 cases where there are lower vaccination rates. He said this will give them the opportunity to see where they would need to provide more resources and education on the vaccine.