Palm Springs sewage sample detects omicron variant

Although the omicron variant has not been reported in Riverside County, sewage data from Dec. 7 detected its presence in Palm Springs, according to a city report.

GT Molecular, a testing lab in Fort Collins, Colorado, added a beta test for signature mutations found in the emerging omicron variant, the report said. While the data from the December 6 sample only detected the presence of the delta variant, the omicron variant was found in the December 7 sample.

However, the report notes that GT Molecular’s omicron test is still in beta form and its “results should be interpreted with caution.”

The report says a person will typically shed the virus through their waste within a day or two of infection, and then symptoms may appear five to 10 days later, or not at all. To test sewage, the city takes composite samples from the sewage treatment plant around the clock and sends them via dry ice to GT Molecular for analysis.

Although local public health officials have not confirmed a case of the omicron variant in Riverside County, spokesman Jose Arballo Jr. said, “As with other variants, it is likely that the variant omicron will lie in the community before it is confirmed by testing.”

The latest sewage report indicates that the average number of virus copies detected at the sewage plant has increased since Thanksgiving. On December 6, there were 201,037 virus copies per liter of wastewater, and on December 7, there were 282,415 virus copies per litre. But while there has been an increase, the report says the data points are very similar to what has been seen over the past three months. So far, the average for December is about the same as the average for October and November.

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COVID-19 cases have started to rise again in Riverside County. Arballo recently told the Desert Sun that Riverside County officials “expect the number to increase” after Thanksgiving and recent gatherings.

“Although there is a slight uptick, it is well below what we had last year at this time,” he said. “We’re hoping the numbers start to stabilize soon and any increases we see in December and January will be slight.”

On December 6 and 7, 2020, the figures were 2,496,629 viral copies per liter of wastewater and 1,564,574 viral copies per liter of wastewater respectively.

Ema Sasic covers health in the Coachella Valley. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @ema_sasic.

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