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Wastewater shows more COVID in Cincinnati than other numbers indicate

Wastewater samples at the South Platte Renew wastewater treatment facility are packaged in vials like these and shipped in cold storage to an East Coast facility that tests for the presence of coronavirus.
Hart Van Denburg
/
Colorado Public Radio
Wastewater samples at the South Platte Renew wastewater treatment facility in Colorado are packaged in vials like these and shipped in cold storage to an East Coast facility that tests for the presence of coronavirus.

Monitoring of Cincinnati-area wastewater has indicated there's a lot more COVID-19 in the region than other tests have shown. The Cincinnati Health Department says positive test reports are low, but sampling at the four wastewater collection sites indicate a surge in COVID RNA.

Interim Health Commissioner Grant Mussman says the numbers look like the omicron surge. “Whether that means there’s exactly the same amount of transmission of COVID out there in the community as during omicron, that we don’t really know,” he says. “But it’s likely that there’s a fair amount of transmission out there that we’re not detecting.”

Mass COVID testing sites have all but shut down as at-home testing kits became more available. Mussman says that means some positive cases are not getting reported.

Local health officials have been monitoring wastewater for COVID for about two years. “What we track is the viral gene copies in the wastewater, and that became a lot more common as COVID started and we were searching for ways to look at transmission in the community,” Mussman says.

He says there could be a lot of asymptomatic cases in the community, too, and a lot that aren't reported to health officials. The number of hospitalizations hasn't climbed either.

“A lot of it may be asymptomatic. Especially with the hospitalization data. It may be that it’s mild. Hopefully that’s the case,” he says. “And hopefully it’s not the case that we’re going to see a big surge in cases in the next few weeks.”

Mussman says it's difficult to predict what will happen next. One concern is hospital capacity. He says Ohio has about 17% fewer hospital beds for COVID patients because of decreased staffing. Another concern is new variants not responding to some treatment options.

He says the advice is still the same: mask up when indoors with others, and get current on vaccinations.

Bill Rinehart started his radio career as a disc jockey in 1990. In 1994, he made the jump into journalism and has been reporting and delivering news on the radio in markets including Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska; Sioux City, Iowa; Dayton, Ohio; and most recently as senior correspondent and anchor for Cincinnati’s WLW-AM.