Wednesday, December 8, 2021
Low concentrations of omicron variant found in Sacramento County sewage sample
SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. —
Public health officials in Sacramento County told KCRA 3 on Tuesday that low concentrations of the COVID-19 omicron variant were found in a sewage sample from November.
The Sacramento County Public Health Department was notified Dec. 3 that the HV69-70 mutation — which is used as a marker for omicron — was found in a sample that was collected Nov. 30.
"This is useful because wastewater surveillance is one of the tools that helps us identify new variants. We continue with other tools, including identifying specimens to prioritize for whole-genome sequencing, as we cannot possibly sequence EVERY test result," public health officials said in a statement.
County spokesperson Janna Haynes said the samples came from a wastewater treatment plant so officials have no way of knowing where in the county the variant was detected.
Experts are cautiously optimistic that the omicron variant may lead to fewer deaths than the delta variant. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, said that scientists need more information before drawing conclusions about the variant's severity.
Reports from South Africa, where it emerged and is becoming the dominant strain, suggest that hospitalization rates have not increased alarmingly.
Fauci said the Biden administration is considering lifting travel restrictions against non-citizens entering the United States from several African countries. They were imposed as the omicron variant exploded in those regions.
On Tuesday, Sacramento County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said the county was selected by the state for this testing in the summer.
Although county health officials say no cases of the omicron variant have been confirmed in Sacramento County, this wastewater data shows the variant is likely present.
Heather Bischel, an associate professor at UC Davis who leads a project that monitors wastewater in Davis, said coronavirus can be traced in fecal matter that ends up in the wastewater system, even though it is a respiratory virus.
“We have a lot of confidence in the data that comes from the wastewater that not only is the virus present, and we can follow trends of it, but in this case that they also detected the omicron variant from special mutations that they monitored for,” Bischel told KCRA 3.
She and county officials said the delta variant is still the most common variant seen in local cases.