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More contagious COVID variant first found in UK spreads in Houston, according to our waste

Recent tests of wastewater samples in Houston show “ongoing and uncontrolled community spread of the the U.K. variant,” according to the Houston Health Department.

HOUSTON — The more contagious variant of the COVID-19 virus which was first detected in the U.K. is spreading rapidly through Houston, according to the Houston Health Department.

They cited recent testing that detected the variant at 31 of the City of Houston’s 39 wastewater treatment plants. Earlier testing on February 8 detected the variant at 21 plants, while late January results gave experts hope that cases were dropped.

Editor's note: The above video on using wastewater to track COVID-19 originally aired in September.

Now, the health department says the increase reveals “ongoing and uncontrolled community spread of the U.K. variant.”

“The prevalence of the U.K. variant in our wastewater shows it’s actively spreading in our city,” agreed Dr. David Persse, chief medical officer for the City of Houston.

Wastewater sample results for other highly transmissible variants, including the South Africa, Brazil, and California variants, are pending.

Nine cases of the U.K. variant, one case of the South African variant, two cases of the Brazil variant and 11 cases of the California variant are currently confirmed in Houston.

Experts say at least 40% of people who have the virus have no symptoms, but they do shed virus in their feces.

“I am concerned about this new data on the U.K. strain of the virus in Houston, especially at a time when the State of Texas is easing mandates on measures proven to reduce transmission and ultimately save lives,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. 

Turner also said Monday the City of Houston’s positivity rate is up to 13.1 percent.

The Houston Health Department and Houston Water started testing wastewater for COVID-19 last May. The results help quickly identify emerging outbreaks and pinpoint precise locations where testing and vaccines are needed.

The project is a partnership with Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine.

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