Dec 2, 2021 - COVID

Record levels of COVID-19 detected in Des Moines metro sewage

Tiled wall with a COVID cell cut into a sheet of toilet paper on the roll.

Maura Losch/Axios

Record levels of COVID-19 were detected in metro-area sewage collected just before Thanksgiving, according to the latest test results.

Driving the news: The Des Moines Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation Authority's sample collection on Nov. 22 shows coronavirus concentration levels roughly 9% higher than the previous peak in September.

Why it matters: Wastewater surveillance can be a leading indicator of COVID-19 because not everybody gets tested for the virus, according to the CDC.

  • Asymptomatic infections show up in the data. And sewage testing is conducted independently from health clinics, which are dependent on community members seeking out care.

State of play: Confirmed COVID-19 infections have increased in Polk County from a seven-day average of 150 in late October to 228 as of yesterday, according to The New York Times.

  • WRA's samples detected an increase in COVID-19 concentration in each of the last four samples taken since Nov. 10.
  • Meanwhile, Iowa health officials announced yesterday that statewide hospitalizations have topped 700, a new yearly high.

The big picture: The CDC on Wednesday confirmed the first known U.S. case of the new Omicron variant in California. It's already been detected in roughly two dozen countries.

  • Scientists believe Omicron could be more transmissible and possibly more resistant to vaccines than earlier variants, though research is ongoing.
  • Iowa is analyzing hundreds of test samples each week to track for variants.

What they're saying: Omicron's impact is still unclear, Sarah Ekstrand, a spokesperson for Iowa's Public Health Department, told Axios.

  • Being vaccinated remains one of the most effective steps in reducing the spread of COVID-19 and preventing serious illness, according to the World Health Organization.
  • More than 60% of Polk County's residents, including 75% of adults, are now vaccinated, according to the NY Times.

Of note: DSM does not currently receive information about variants found in WRA samples, Jonathan Gano, the city's public works director Jonathan Gano, told Axios.


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