Mar. 15, 2022 -- COVID-19 cases may surge again in the United States if wastewater testing proves to be a reliable predictor.

ABC News reported that 37% of wastewater sites monitored by the CDC from Feb. 24-March 10 have seen an increase of 100% or more in COVID-19 viral levels found in the wastewater. About 30% of those sites showed an increase of 1,000% or more.

"It is likely we will see a new rise in cases across the United States as our wastewater data is showing a concerning signal," Rebecca Weintraub, assistant professor of global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School, told ABC News.

"Now is a key moment to communicate why we need to accelerate the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine, remind communities why boosters are needed, secure an ongoing supply of tests and N95 to communities -- especially the red zones."

Wastewater testing for COVID doesn’t happen everywhere, but increases have been detected in the Northeast, including in New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania.

Scientists have been testing wastewater since the early days of the pandemic because they know infected people shed the coronavirus through their feces. It can provide an early warning system because it may detect the virus days before personalized testing does.

Wastewater testing also has the advantage of reflecting the existence of the virus in people who don’t know they’re infected or people who take home tests and don’t report their infection to health officials.

Amy Kirby, the head of the CDC’s wastewater monitoring program, urged a cautious interpretation of the data, telling Bloomberg that detection of COVID in wastewater is still “very low across the board” and may simply be a temporary “bump.”

“It’s too early to know if this current trend will continue or whether we’ll see a corresponding increase in reported cases across the country,” Kirby said. “We encourage local health officials to monitor their numbers closely and use these data as an early warning sign if wastewater levels continue to increase.”

The CDC recently created a dashboard of how much COVID virus has been discovered in wastewater, though state and local agencies had been sending the CDC their own wastewater data since the start of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, COVID cases are rising in Europe, which has often been a harbinger of trends in the United States.

New cases per capita have gone up 32% in the United Kingdom since the beginning of the month, ABC News said. Infections are up 45% in Germany and 26% in Italy.

The case counts in Europe are growing as BA.2, an Omicron subvariant, is increasingly detected around the world. At the same time, the UK and other European nations recently relaxed health restrictions.

"Since the beginning of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, what’s happened in Europe has happened around the globe,” Sam Scarpino, MD, managing director of pathogen surveillance at the Rockefeller Foundation and a member of its Pandemic Prevention Institute, told ABC News. “We can’t afford to sit around and let this early warning from Europe again go unheeded."

Show Sources

ABC News. “Rise in COVID-19 infections overseas may foreshadow increase in US, experts say”

Bloomberg. “U.S. Sewer Data Warns of a New Bump in Covid Cases After Lull”

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