Researchers use wastewater from Elk Grove treatment plant to detect COVID-19 variants

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Samples from the Sacramento Regional Sanitation District wastewater treatment plant in Elk Grove show mutation markers associated with the omicron variant. 

The findings were made by researchers at Stanford University. 

Marlene Wolfe is an assistant professor of environmental health at Emory University in the state of Georgia who is working with Stanford and other universities to detect COVID-19 variants. 

“The lowest number of cases that we can detect using this method is about one to two people in 100,000,” Wolfe said. 

Although the omicron variant has not been detected in any particular person in the Sacramento area, Wolfe said she can give a ballpark estimate as to how many cases are in the area just by what is detected in wastewater samples. 

“We would estimate that if we are detecting something that would mean there are on the order of 10 to 20 cases, and that’s an estimate. And what we are really going to be looking for, that’s a really small number that we are starting out with,” Wolfe said. 

Christopher Dobson is the general manager of where the samples were taken. He said they have been sending samples of wastewater to labs throughout the pandemic. 

It’s a way of figuring out how many possible cases of COVID-19 are in the area, adding that the mutations in the wastewater pose no risk to those near it. 

“Although we are detecting a virus, it’s not something that’s infectious in our wastewater, so it’s not a safety issue for our workers,” Dobson said. 

Sacramento County health officials said they will discuss the omicron mutation in the wastewater at a weekly briefing later in the week. 

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