SM County: Wastewater Treatment & Disease Trends!

SM County: Wastewater Treatment & Disease Trends!

San Miguel County Department of Public Health announces that wastewater treatment data continues to inform disease trends. Recent sample detect variant – though not a variant of concern.

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Grace Franklin, County Public Health Director.

San Miguel County wastewater COVID testing has detected a trace amount of a COVID-19 variant of unknown significance in the most recent sample from the East End sewer shed. The variant detected is not a Variant of Concern, such as the more transmissible B117 variant that originated in the United Kingdom, nor the variants that originated in South Africa and Brazil. The test to indicate a B117 variant of concern tests for an N501Y mutation, which was not detected in the more recent sample.

“The COVID virus is mutating all the time, that’s what RNA viruses do, and there are countless mutations that have been observed around the world so far,” said Dr. Jeffrey Kocher, infectious disease expert and member of the Public Health advisory team. “The correct course of action is to continue monitoring.”

While the presence of COVID mutations is to be expected over a year after the initial virus was detected, the documented copies of the variant are low at this time and its presence is not cause for alarm.

Wastewater treatment analysis began in San Miguel County in September of last year in order to provide predictive surveillance testing to provide a population-based understanding of the disease burden on the East End. As COVID RNA typically reveals itself in wastewater in advance of symptom onset, this type of analysis can provide insight into potential surges as well as declines in the prevalence of COVID-19 over time.

“The increased restrictions of Orange Extreme, which were put into place in advance of the President’s weekend holiday population surge, have contributed to a declining rate of infection in visitors and locals,” said Public Health Director Grace Franklin. “Wastewater data continues to anticipate the discovery of clinical cases before people experience symptoms. Public Health will continue to watch this information closely along with the variant analysis through the end of the pandemic.”

Wastewater data for COVID-19 is useful in tracking virus trends across communities. In addition to giving Public Health some advance notice regarding any surge in presence of COVID, wastewater analysis helps suggest whether or not testing access is sufficient. For example, when wastewater treatment numbers are high, but positivity and incidence rates, which are informed by testing, are low, that indicates an increase in testing capacity is likely necessary.

“Our two-week measurement period concludes Wednesday,” said Public Health Director Grace Franklin. “We are cautiously optimistic at this time that we will soon be able to reduce restrictions, though we remain vigilant given the many unpredictable turns this pandemic has handed us. Our hope is that the worst is behind us given warming weather and vaccine distribution.”

Public Health has confirmed four new positive cases of COVID-19 from test results received from February 19 through 23. Of these cases, all four are confirmed as residents and all actively contagious cases are currently in isolation.

As of release time on 2/23,  there have been 803 total COVID cases among residents to date with 15 active cases.

Results have begun to arrive from last week’s shipping delays and complications at the testing labs. There are nearly 200 test results still outstanding from last week as facilities experienced delays due to a severe weather event.

While observing a declining trend in positivity, maintaining current policy levels will help San Miguel County continue the downward trend over a two-week measurement period in order to evaluate potential reductions in future restrictions.

To learn more about the county’s wastewater data and current COVID-19 metrics, please visit the County COVID-19 dashboard.

Five Commitments of Containment:

Wear a mask
Maintain six feet of physical distance
Minimize group size
Wash hands frequently
Stay home when sick and get tested

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