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BA.2 omicron variant cases on the rise, state monitors sewershed

Published: Mar. 21, 2022 at 8:36 PM EDT
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - The BA.2 subvariant of omicron has risen to make up nearly 25-percent of the country’s COVID infections and the CDC is using household wastewater to track the disease.

Using this method, data can be collected without the variables of patient access to healthcare, seeking healthcare when ill, or the availability of COVID testing.

The World Health Organization labeled the BA.2 variant as the dominant variant across the globe. With mask guidelines more relaxed, eyes turn to the U.S. to make it through the summer without a repeat of sky-high case numbers.

For a while, researchers at East Carolina University were taking samples in Greenville.

“That gave us a target to say, ‘COVID was in this dorm, but not this dorm,’” said ECU’s Director of National Security Initiatives, Jim Menke. “There was a threshold and once it hit that threshold there was enough COVID in the wastewater to say there’s someone sick in that dorm.”

While the university has ended that initiative and opted for other means of COVID tracking, the state is participating in the Centers for Disease Control’s nationwide wastewater surveillance program.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services says 24 sampling sites are currently part of the program and 12 more will be added soon.

“We believe it’s in the community. It’s always here,” said Menke. “It’s going to continue to develop variations of that virus.”

This kind of sampling evens the playing field when it comes to detection.

This method of disease tracking has been around for decades. In the 1940s it was instrumental in tracking and containing outbreaks of Polio.

Just last month the Associated Press reported 73-percent of the U.S. was considered immune from omicron.

The question that remains is: will that immunity be enough to stop another surge as mask regulations diminish?

Health experts stand strong behind vaccination as the most effective tool to fight COVID-19.

Since the beginning of the year, the number of fully vaccinated Americans increased just over two percent.

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