Wastewater Data Hints at Possible COVID Decline in Some Areas

2 min read

Sept. 20, 2023 – The summer-long surge of COVID-19 may be peaking in some parts of the U.S., according to wastewater monitoring.

Average levels of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, being found in wastewater are down about 5%, compared to last week, NBC News reported, citing data from wastewater sampling at 257 nationwide sites monitored by Biobot Analytics.

“All fingers crossed, this wave is plateauing and may be declining," Biobot epidemiologist Cristin Young, PhD, MPH, told NBC News.

A University of North Carolina lab has seen a recent decline among its 12 monitoring sites, while other monitoring programs are noting upticks in the Midwest and Northeast, according to the news outlet. 

Another nationwide monitoring program that includes 183 sites in 36 states isn’t reporting a downturn of virus levels in wastewater.

“What we're seeing right now is a kind of ‘flattening out,’” Marlene Wolfe, PhD, an assistant professor of environmental health at Emory University and program director for WastewaterSCAN, told NBC News. “We haven't really seen a true downturn happen yet.”

The CDC currently gauges COVID-19 activity and virus spread based on wastewater monitoring, the rate of people hospitalized with COVID-19, and the rate of people dying due to the illness. All of those measures typically are delayed indicators of the impact of COVID-19 at the community level.

For the week ending Sept. 9, 20,538 people nationwide were hospitalized with COVID, which was the equivalent of about six hospitalizations per 100,000 people. Hospitalizations have been rising every week since the end of June.

Of the 3,227 counties tracked by the CDC, about 88% of them had low or declining hospitalization rates, compared to the week prior. There were 27 counties with hospitalization increases that were considered high, and those counties were in Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Oregon, Texas, and Virginia.