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Grant program in Chesapeake on wastewater tests for COVID-19 to possibly expand

Chesapeake Health leaders said this grant program is the first of its kind in Hampton Roads.

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — It’s a unique way to test for COVID-19 in Chesapeake: health leaders are testing wastewater for COVID-19.

“It’s all about preventing the spread, trying to get control,” said Cynthia Jackson, who is Chesapeake Health Department’s Environmental Health Manager. “Individuals can actually shed the virus. By testing for the virus in the wastewater we are able to detect any areas of Chesapeake that may be higher.”

Jackson said this project is under a grant program. It’s a partnership between city leaders, the Virginia Department of Health, Old Dominion University professors, and the Hampton Roads Sanitation District.

“We have our results five to seven days before anyone would show symptoms or even if they are asymptotic,” she explained. “We are able to tell if we have individuals who are out there shedding the virus.”

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Leaders use the data they collected to go into the community to test and vaccinate people against COVID-19.

“I think the information has been very beneficial,” Jackson said.  “We only picked five locations within Chesapeake and we based that on the health index, population size, and the vaccination rate.”

Leaders are looking to expand by possibly changing the scope of the program.

Jackson asked, “Do we continue doing what we are doing, do we change our location, now that schools are back in session? Do we focus more on the schools?”

Jackson said she and the team are working hard to slow the spread of COVID-19.

She said, “We are just doing what we can to help get back to some normalcy.”

Jackson said there is a possibility the group of researchers could expand the wastewater testing to detect the flu.