VADOC using wastewater testing to stay ahead of COVID-19 outbreaks

Published: Dec. 7, 2021 at 4:59 PM EST
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FLUVANNA COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - The Virginia Department of Corrections is trying to stay one step ahead of COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities.

According to a press release from VADOC, Virginia is one of the first state prison systems to perform wastewater testing.

“We initially started just gathering some of the data, trying to increase our comfort with the data. It was the first time that a correctional facility or cohort facility had started using data like this,” VADOC Environmental and Energy Administrator Meghan Mayfield said.

Now all 40 facilities use wastewater testing once a week.

“We then get the results back in three to seven days. Most generally, it’s four to five. So we’ll submit the sample beginning of the week, and at the end of the week we will get the result,” Mayfield said.

“Because the covid virus is shared eight to 10 days prior to someone have symptoms, we’ve been able to catch several facilities and stop the spread,” VADOC Utilities Plant Administrator Robert Tolbert said.

The Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women uses this testing.

“Early in covid, we had outbreaks. We have not had any in quite some time, so we’re very thankful of that. We do test our staff. We have had some staff positives, but thankfully we have been able to contain that before it spreads. So I believe part of that is the testing strategies that we have, part of which is through the wastewater treatment plant,” Warden Mariea LeFevers said.

“The idea is just like in corrections, or in other places where you’ve got a building with people together, and it’s hard to test them all the time every day. You can use wastewater testing as an early warning system for monitoring a spike,” UVA Associate Professor of Medicine and Pathology Dr. Amy Mathers said.

FCCW is also one of five facilities using new LuminUltra technology for even faster results, which come in after around two hours.

“We literally break it down to like a micropipette size of wastewater and drop it in a little DNA thing and let it do its thing for about 45 minutes, and then it will actually give us good quantitative data of this the amount of RNA replication of the virus at this facility at this time,” Mayfield said.

The wastewater testing is also cheaper than PCR tests: It’s about $200 a week to test a facility like Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, but around $180,000 for PCR testing.

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