Coronavirus levels are rising in New Orleans wastewater. Experts say it’s ‘certainly concerning’ | Coronavirus

The level of coronavirus found at two New Orleans wastewater sites has increased nearly 700% in the past two weeks, according to data reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While virus levels in Louisiana remain low, recent data puts infectious disease experts on alert after weeks of declining cases and easing restrictions.

“We’re a bit in the dark right now, but the sewage certainly suggests that SARS-CoV-2 is definitely here and it appears to be — at best we can say — increasing,” said Susan Hassig, epidemiologist for the United States. Infectious diseases. at Tulane University.

The rise in sewage levels comes amid other early signs of additional infections. The state reported 604 cases in the past seven days, up from about 450 the previous week, an increase of about 33%. More cases are likely going undetected through the use of home testing, which is not reported to public officials.

Separately, hospitalizations increased by 12 patients last Friday, fell slightly over the weekend and then increased again on Monday and Tuesday, for a total of 63 patients in Louisiana hospitals.

The rise in COVID levels nationwide and in Louisiana is due in part to the omicron subvariant BA.2, estimated to be about 50-60% more infectious than the original omicron variant that fueled a thrust last winter. It accounts for 84% of COVID cases in the Southwest region and 43% of cases in Louisiana as of April 2.

It’s too early to tell if the rise will continue, but health experts are closely watching other states that are seeing an increase in cases and hospitalizations. The five states with the highest 7-day case increases are in the northeast, according to the CDC. New hospital admissions are also beginning to increase in this region. Philadelphia officials recently reinstated a mask mandate, citing a sharp rise in infections.

“Part of what we can and probably should do is look at what’s happening in the North East, in terms of timing,” Hassig said. “They’ve been reasonable predictors, usually about 3-4-5 weeks ahead of us through most of these waves.”

New Orleans sewage — which reflects virus particles discharged in saliva, urine and feces — has shown higher levels of coronavirus since the CDC began tracking it in mid-February. The increase was reflected in samples taken at the end of March and rose steadily through April 9, the most recent data available.

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Although sewage sampling has been used since the early days of the pandemic, it has become an early warning system that the federal government has relied on as part of a path to more normal life in the course of the last few months. Samples from the two Sewerage and Water Board wastewater treatment sites on the east and west banks are taken daily and sent to the CDC. About 65% of the nearly 450 wastewater treatment sites across the country have seen rising COVID levels in the past two weeks. Other Louisiana collection sites are planned, according to Louisiana Department of Health officials.

Not every increase recorded by the CDC can be interpreted as a sure sign of a surge to come, said Aaron Bivins, co-founder of the COVID-19 Wastewater-based Epidemiology Collaborative and assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. from LSU. The size of a percentage increase depends on the baseline from the previous week, and Louisiana’s increases still remain below the threshold of a 1,000% increase that Bivins would consider alarming when virus levels are low.

Still, “my antennae are up,” Bivins said. “This change in trend is definitely concerning.”

A steady increase in COVID sewage levels over the next few weeks would prompt risk management measures such as mask-wearing and reconsideration of whether to go out to eat, Bivins said. A collision of rising infections with Easter weekend, French Quarter Fest and Jazz Fest, along with less available testing as federal funding runs out, could lead to greater transmission.

Residents infected in the omicron surge likely still have some protection, Hassig pointed out. But that wanes after about three months, and nearly half of Louisiana remains unvaccinated.

“It’s probably giving us a bit of a buffer, but it’s really going to start to fade quickly as we go into May,” Hassig said.

Writer Jeff Adelson contributed to this report.

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Emily Woodruff covers public health for The Times-Picayune | The lawyer as a member of the Report For America body.

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