Wastewater COVID Samples Indicate Possible Future Case Spike

Wednesday, April 7th 2021, 6:11 pm
By: Karl Torp

Researchers are trying to solve a COVID mystery coming from wastewater samples.

The data is the first indicator case numbers could be going up.

Since last fall, OU researchers have been testing the sewer water in many municipalities and the University of Oklahoma for COVID particles.

“We’ve got this two-week lead time before the county health departments are aware of an outbreak occurring,” said Halley Reeves, VP of Community Health Impact at OU Health.

The concentration levels detected went down in the metro in January and stayed that way until the past couple of weeks.

“We’ve noticed in areas, pockets, that numbers have gone back up. That’s cause for concern,” said Bradley Stevenson, an associate professor in microbiology at OU.

Narrowing down why COVID concentrations levels are up in the sewer is made more challenging for researchers when more people have been vaccinated.

“There are a lot more people that are immune or resisted that could be carrying the virus asymptomatically,” added Stevenson.

Usually, a spike detected in sewer surveillance shows up in the COVID case count one to two weeks later.

News 9 is told that hasn't happened yet.

Data collected in the sewer isn't just limited to concentration levels.

Researchers can detect mutations of the virus that would indicate of COVID 19 variants.