Covid leveling off in some areas of the country, despite uptick in cases

Covid leveling off in some areas of the country, despite uptick in cases

Wastewater surveillance finds the spread of Covid may be plateauing. But experts warn that the nation is not done with the virus just yet.

Wastewater data suggest that the recent uptick in Covid cases may have peaked, at least in some areas.

Biobot Analytics, a company that tracks wastewater samples at 257 sites nationwide, said that the current average Covid levels across the United States are approximately 5% lower than they were last week.

“All fingers crossed,” Cristin Young, a Biobot epidemiologist said, “this wave is plateauing and may be declining.”

While data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a rise in Covid-related hospitalizations and deaths, wastewater may indicate what’s to come.

After a mid- to late-summer rise, the CDC’s Covid wastewater surveillance now shows declines in mid-Atlantic states, such as Virginia and Maryland.

The findings are backed up from surveillance in North Carolina, said Jessica Schlueter, an associate professor in the department of bioinformatics and genomics at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. Her lab is responsible for testing 12 sites across the state.

The increase in Covid wastewater samples during the last six months “seems to be peaking and starting to taper off,” she said. That means a fall in cases could follow.

Wastewater collection sites in the Midwest and the Northeast, however, show a steady uptick in Covid spread.

Increases that coincide with the start of the school year have become par for the course based on the past three years of Covid activity, but are not expected to last long, said Amy Kirby, who heads the CDC’s wastewater monitoring program.

“We have seen enough data over the years to know that around the time when school starts, we will start seeing some increases,” she said, “which plateau and then come back down” before another winter surge.

Another monitoring system called WastewaterSCAN, which tracks 183 sites in 36 states, is slightly more conservative in its analysis of the latest Covid wastewater data.

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

Like the CDC data, she said, the WastewaterSCAN findings indicate a current rise in Covid spread in the Midwest. That area of the country is “in this surge right now,” she said.

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