Lifting the lid: Virginia health department rolls out COVID data tied to what you flush

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Virginia Department of Health began pushing to use wastewater to track the spread of coronavirus. Now that data is available to the public.

The dashboard, now available where the state’s coronavirus dashboard is located, uses wastewater from 36 treatment plants throughout Virginia to track and monitor the virus.

“Used with other data, wastewater data can provide an indicator of community transmission that does not depend on COVID-19 lab testing or health care provider reporting,” said Dr. Karen Shelton, Virginia’s state health commissioner.

The department said that the virus is shed in the bowl movements of infected people, even if they’re without symptoms, so detection is possible in sewage systems days before you start feeling sick.

“Wastewater surveillance has proven to be a helpful tool in monitoring trends of viruses; we are excited to also explore the potential of utilizing this technology for the fentanyl response, as directed in Governor Youngkin’s Executive Order 26 issued last week,” Shelton said.

The surveillance data collected by wastewater facilities is published weekly on Tuesdays.

Youngkin has also started pushing for the use of wastewater to track the spread of fentanyl across the state as that, too, remains a severe health risk. In a May 9 statement, he said that the state’s health department has 120 days to come up with what he deemed a cost-effective plan for moving forward with the fentanyl tracking option.

Ivy Lyons

Ivy Lyons is a digital journalist for Since 2018, they have worked on Capitol Hill, at NBC News in Washington, and with WJLA in Washington.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up