COVID-19 levels in wastewater up nearly 700% over two weeks, CDC reports

Published: Apr. 14, 2022 at 10:54 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - We’ve had weeks of declining COVID-19 cases and our statewide levels are the lowest we’ve seen during the pandemic, but there are some early warning signs we might see another bump soon.

There’s been a mild rise in cases. 193 in New Orleans over the last seven days, up from 87 the seven days before that.

“Our cases have been at their lowest levels since the beginning of the pandemic and they remain low, so we’re in a pretty good place to weather what the surge may or may not be,” New Orleans Health Director, Dr. Jennifer Avegno said.

One of the other clues that hint at a coming bump is our wastewater. The CDC reports a nearly 700-percent increase in COVID levels in New Orleans wastewater over the past two weeks.

“Wastewater is the canary in the coal mine,” Avengo said. “Generally, you’re going to see the virus going up or down in the wastewater before you’re going to get those test results, generally, by about a week or so, and then the test results generally are out ahead of hospitalizations by about two or three weeks.”

Avegno says the wastewater level was high before mardi gras and then dropped off over the last month, but now it’s now going back up.

That dip in cases also lead to a decrease in testing and the availability of public testing.

“The other issue that is related to testing is that home tests also aren’t necessarily reported to the state, so we don’t have that surveillance piece to add to the numbers,” LSU Health Chief of Infectious Diseases, Julio Figueroa said. “We don’t know how high it’s going to go. Is there going to be like the current wave that we just went through? Is it going to be substantially less than that? We do know that the BA.2 variant, which is the one that’s most likely here in New Orleans, the one that’s been in the Northeast, is even more contagious than Omicron.”

But, it’s not necessarily a reason to panic.

“We can also look to the Northeast as what are likely future as again, they’ve also seen a rise in cases but they started like us from a very low level and fortunately their hospitalizations are not really seeing a spike,” Avegno said.

Louisiana’s death rate and hospitalizations are still very low, especially over at LCMC.

“Single digits. This is some of the best numbers we’ve actually had throughout the entire pandemic, since March of 2020, so we’ll take that as a win,” Dr. Jeffrey Elder said.

These health officials also say given that we have such a high level of vaccination and boosters as well as a lot of people getting Omicron over the last three months, we have a lot of built up immunity that could help prevent us from getting really sick and our hospitals getting really overwhelmed like before.

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