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Uptick in levels of COVID found in wastewater, CDC says as new variant emerges

Dr. Jayne Morgan, executive director of the COVID task force at Piedmont Healthcare System, said there’s no reason to panic yet.

ATLANTA — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed there has been an uptick in the presence of COVID-19 in wastewater samples across the nation.

But, should people be concerned?

Dr. Jayne Morgan, executive director of the COVID task force at Piedmont Healthcare System, said there’s no reason to panic yet.

“What's helpful with wastewater sampling is this is actually the virus being shared in your waste in the sewage, and then it's sampled right before it gets to the purification tank or building,” she explained.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that a third of the CDC’s wastewater sample sites showing COVID-19 cases doubled this month, compared to February. 

Dr. Morgan said that is certainly cause for concern, adding "to see wastewater levels increase in the SARS-CoV-2 virus, it generally heralds what we will see later in our testing results."

However, a high concentration in wastewater samples could also help predict rising infections, before cases even show up in tests.

“That gives us a head start on what we might expect and what we might be on the lookout for within our communities,” Dr. Morgan added. “We may be at the tail-end of omicron but we may not yet be through the pandemic.”

However, the CDC explained this testing is limited to areas that collect and report on wastewater surveillance, which means it can’t provide a national representation of the spread.

According to a map provided by the agency, DeKalb County – where one of the CDC’s sites is located – is currently seeing increasing COVID-19 trends in the sewage sites there over a 15-day period.

“It’s not a matter of sounding a three alarm fire. It’s saying this virus and this pandemic may not be over," Dr. Morgan continued. "As we were watching Europe, with regard to the uptick in cases, they’re being driven largely by that BA.2 variant. We are concerned after five surges that we will also follow that trend here in the United States."

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has confirmed it is keeping an eye on a new COVID-19 strain, which has been dubbed deltacron. The subvariant is essentially a mutation of the omicron and delta variants.

“You're thinking, if you combine them, then you've got a super severe super contagious virus, well, they can also trade their weaker mutations as well, they don't have to trade they're stronger mutations,” Dr. Morgan explained. “We will watch it and see what that means. But just because you mutate and change doesn't mean you mutate into something more serious, you can also mutate into something that's weaker, and less serious.”

Dr. Morgan said the United States is already better positioned compared to earlier in the pandemic, given how far science has come, and vaccinations. She encouraged people continue to get vaccinated and boosted.

“There still may be one more bursts left to come, especially since our population still didn’t reach herd immunity – 75% – with at least one vaccination,” she explained. “One consistent data point through five surges is that the majority of deaths occurred in the unvaccinated once the vaccines were available.”

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