UC San Diego School of Medicine researchers reported on Dec.18 an “unprecedented” spike in COVID-19 viral load in wastewater samples collected from Point Loma at San Diego County’s primary wastewater treatment facility. 

Both Delta and Omicron variants of the virus were detected in the collected samples. According to San Diego County’s public health officer Dr. Wilma Wooten, this confirms prior reports of Omicron circulating communities countywide. 

The excrement of nearly two-thirds of the county’s residents will end up at the county’s primary water treatment facility in Point Loma. Researchers say they found enough COVID-19 virus in the collected samples to predict the region’s COVID-19 caseload up to three weeks ahead of clinical diagnostic reports. 

Screening of wastewater collected by UCSD researchers serves as an early warning system. Researchers say Infected individuals will shed the virus in their stool before experiencing symptoms. According to Rob Knight, professor and wastewater screening leader at UC San Diego School of Medicine, the results discovered on Friday are the steepest the team has ever found since they began testing in the summer of 2020.

Wastewater samples are brought to a lab at the La Jolla Campus to test for the COVID-19 virus, along with samples collected from over 350 campus buildings. All positive samples are sequenced to track viral variants.

Researchers urge people to get their vaccinations or boosters. They also recommended the public to download the CA Notify exposure notification system to smartphones, limiting time spent indoors or unmasked with others, and taking steps to improve indoor ventilation and air filtration. California recently reimposed a mask mandate to all residents regardless of their vaccination status. 

“In addition, every person in San Diego County needs to have a low threshold for testing right now,” said Christopher Longhurst, chief medical officer, and chief digital officer at UC San Diego Health, in a statement. “Don’t wait. If you feel the slightest symptoms if you think you might have had contact with someone with COVID-19 if you’ve gathered in crowds without masks if you’re planning a get-together — test, test, test.”

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