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Omicron's Sewage Path

Sewage testing is helping public health officials grasp how long the Omicron variant wave might last, the New York Times reports.

Various cities, towns and universities have turned to sewage testing during the COVID-19 pandemic to both identify viral hotspots, track viral spread, and even look backward in time to pinpoint when the virus arrived.

Biobot Analytics, a company that offers wastewater-based epidemiology services, tells the Times that based on sewage analyses, the Omicron wave appears to have peaked in large cities like Boston and New York, though it is still on the rise in smaller communities in Ohio, Florida, and Utah. "It's not just an early warning sign, but it's also helpful to monitor the full trajectory of a surge," Amy Kirby from the National Wastewater Surveillance System at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adds the Times.

Wastewater data also can help estimate when the Omicron variant arrived in different places. A separate article in the Times reports that a new analysis indicates that Omicron was present in New York City earlier than thought. Kirby and her colleagues write in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that Omicron may have been present there in November before the variant was uncovered by researchers in South Africa. The Times notes that the analysis shows the Omicron mutations were present in the sample, but not necessarily that the were all from one viral genome.