VIRGINIA BEACH, V.A. (WAVY) – For more than one year now, scientists with the Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD) have been testing sewage weekly in order to track COVID-19 and its presence in the community.

Ahead of the holidays, preliminary data show case numbers are going to continue rising.

The Hampton Roads Sanitation District became the first agency in Virginia to start testing sewage for the presence of the coronavirus. Scientists said the data collected can be used to predict outbreaks and “hot spots” before more traditional testing methods.

“Our numbers right now, kind of mirror the rest of the country, just still really high numbers,” Raul Gonzalez, an environmental scientist with HRSD, said Wednesday. “Our wastewater data did see this coming ahead of time.”

Currently, the HRSD dashboard shows high community spread throughout the region. Gonzalez said the numbers have been trending higher since Thanksgiving.

“Before Thanksgiving, we were seeing sort of a drop in COVID-19 in or region,” Gonzalez said. “Post-Thanksgiving we started to see those numbers go back up and we are still seeing them elevated.”

Gonzalez said the program is looking to expand.

“We’re not only looking for COVID but we are also looking to start a pilot program to look for flu and a few other respiratory pathogens,” Gonzalez said.

It’s all in the effort to better explain what is making us sick, without testing everyone.