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Wastewater testing shows first signs of possible new COVID wave

Point Loma Sewage Treatment Plant
Posted at 5:44 PM, Mar 21, 2022

LA JOLLA, Calif. (KGTV) — After weeks of decline, experts who track coronavirus levels in San Diego's wastewater say they are starting to see a slight uptick in viral load, which could be an indication that the new wave of the pandemic that has hit foreign countries has now reached Southern California.

“This slight uptick is not something to be alarmed about, but something we’re watching with caution," Dr. Christopher Longhurst, Chief Medical Officer at UC San Diego Health, told ABC 10News Monday.

Several countries, including the United Kingdom and China, have seen a recent spike in COVID cases, possibily linked to the new BA.2 subvariant of Omicron. In the United States, experts have been looking more and more to wastewater testing as the best early indicator of a COVID surge. UCSD began testing wastewater early in the pandemic, with broader testing also now being done at other sites in San Diego County, including the Point Loma Sewage Treatment Plant.

Longhurst says wastewater testing showed signs of the Delta Wave in 2021 nearly three weeks before case numbers began to jump. Similarly, wastewater testing suggested the Omicron wave would be the biggest yet, with those indictators coming a week before the rise in cases in January.

Longhurst says the last data analyzed from Point Loma on March 13 and March 14 show an uptick. While he says it's too early to tell for sure and more data is needed, he hopes San Diego's high vaccination rate, combined with the high number of people recently infected with Omicron, could keep the new wave manageable. Still, he suggests San Diegans take a risk-based approach, meaning those who have medical reasons to believe they may be more susceptible to severe disease from COVID may want to increase the level of precautions they are taking.