Feb 15, 2022 - COVID

Omicron's peak has passed, according to our poop

COVID-19 viral load in Columbus metro wastewater
Data: Ohio Department of Health; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

If our poop could talk, it would tell us that the worst of the Omicron variant has likely passed.

What's happening: A network of state agencies and universities is monitoring wastewater throughout Ohio for COVID-19 gene copies, which infected people shed in their feces.

  • Over the past two weeks, one wastewater treatment plant that serves half of Columbus is experiencing a downward trend in cases and the second is plateauing.

Why it matters: Wastewater surveillance can monitor disease outbreaks without relying on testing. It can also serve as an early warning for macro trends, as people often shed the virus before they're symptomatic.

By the numbers: Ohio's data is published on an online dashboard and also added to a federal database.

  • Of the 69 wastewater plants on Ohio's dashboard, 10 report increasing levels of COVID, 23 are decreasing and 36 are staying steady.

Yes, but: This is a developing field and is not a perfect system, the CDC warns.

  • In Columbus, for example, one plant experienced a massive peak in January. The other didn't see nearly as drastic a spike.

What they're saying: Such differences are expected. Variables can impact how much shed virus is detected, including industries in the sewershed, population size and wastewater travel time in sewer lines, Ohio Department of Health officials tell Axios.

The big picture: Columbus' wastewater data appears to be in sync with case numbers reported through testing in city boundaries, which peaked near the first week of January.

The bottom line: While we can't pinpoint exactly how many COVID cases are in an area using our poop just yet, it's still a helpful trend tool to complement other surveillance methods.

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