LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The next big news on COVID-19 just might come from the sewers as officials rely on wastewater analysis for virus levels and new variants.
A new dashboard to monitor the information has been launched at http://empower.unlv.edu, with plans to update weekly. It’s a collaboration involving UNLV, the Southern Nevada Health District (SNHD), the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) and the Desert Research Institute (DRI).
To use the dashboard, scroll down and click on a point on the map. That will reveal graphs and information below the map.
Also on Wednesday, SNHD reported that two strains of omicron are the only active COVID-19 variants that have been detected in Southern Nevada over the past 30 days. Omicron accounts for 87.3% of all COVID-19 variants, and the “stealth” variant of omicron — BA.2 — accounts for the remaining 12.7%.
The New York Times recently reported that health officials believe the omicron stealth variant could reverse the downward trend of COVID-19 cases, but they doubt it will cause a large spike in cases.
The new dashboard unveiled today is part of one of the largest COVID-19 surveillance projects in the world, according to a Wednesday news release. Nevada was one of the first states to initiate wastewater testing. The 8 News Now I-Team reported how wastewater analysis provided early warning of outbreaks more than a year ago. During the pandemic, wastewater surveillance has tracked, monitored and provided early awareness of increases in volume of the virus as well as changes to the types of variants of COVID-19.
“As we move into the next stage of our response to COVID-19, wastewater surveillance is going to be a powerful tool for detecting potential surges in new cases or the presence of new variants in our community,” said Cassius Lockett, Director of Disease Surveillance and Control for SNHD. “We will be able to alert the public in a timelier manner and support public health mitigation measures that can help slow the spread of the virus.”
The wastewater surveillance program monitors concentrations of the virus from people who contract COVID-19 — with or without symptoms — and shed genetic material through the sewer system. The presence of genetic material is detected in the sewer system before the person who contracted the virus ever starts showing symptoms
In addition to being an early indicator that cases of COVID-19 may be increasing in a community, wastewater surveillance can also indicate when cases are decreasing, and the surveillance program is not dependent on people seeking testing or health care when they are sick.
“The collaboration between our community partners has enabled the collection of one of the largest and most diverse wastewater datasets in the country,” said Edwin Oh, professor and director of the Neurogenetics and Precision Medicine Lab at UNLV. “The daily and weekly analyses of these samples will help keep us one step ahead of emerging pathogens and variants.”