The V.I. Health Department said it has been working collaboratively with the V.I. Waste Management Authority since February 2021 to compare wastewater testing results at its facilities to DOH human surveillance data. Both surveillance platforms confirm there is a COVID-19 surge, the department stated.
VIWMA is partnering with Biobot Analytics of Cambridge, Massachusetts, to test and analyze these wastewater samples, the press release stated. The VIWMA testing takes place at five wastewater treatment facilities: two on St. Thomas (Mangrove and Redpoint), two on St. Croix (Anguilla and Fig Tree), and one on St. John (Cruz Bay) once a week.
Additionally, in October and November, VIWMA ran a pilot program at seven elementary schools. The program ran for six weeks utilizing Biobot Analytics (www.biobot.io) to test wastewater to track COVID-19’s presence on a broader level in the territory, the press release stated. VIWMA hopes to resume that school-based testing program, it said.
Biobot Analytics is a wastewater epidemiology company that analyzes sewage to provide public health analytics. This technology allows for studies to be conducted in a non-invasive, anonymous way, the department said. The wastewater data reports also include genomic sequencing to help identify and monitor variants, including Omicron and future ones. The Biobot Analytics data showed the presence of the Omicron variant on Nov. 21, in the U.S., before the first clinical case reports in South Africa, the release stated.
“By doing wastewater surveillance, we can combine efforts and compare results with the individual human sampling (COVID-19 antigen and PCR testing) that VIDOH regularly does with the findings from the VIWMA wastewater results,” said Alice Krall, special assistant to VIWMA’s Executive Director Roger E. Merritt Jr.
“The agreement or alignment of these two sets of data further confirms the COVID trends that are being seen. The testing done by VIWMA is yet another analytic tool that can serve as an early warning system to allow the VI to detect surges of COVID-19,” said Dr. Esther Ellis, VIDOH Territorial Epidemiologist.