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Louisville wastewater shows high levels of COVID, but not omicron

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Researchers at the University of Louisville who monitor the city’s wastewater for COVID-19 say levels are the highest they’ve been since testing started in July 2020. The new omicron variant still has not been detected there. 

Ted Smith, director at U of L’s Center for Healthy Air, Water and Soil at the school’s Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute, told WFPL Friday that the samples taken Monday show between 1,000 and 10,000 copies of the virus per mL of wastewater. 

The previous high was detected in August during the delta surge, according to Smith’s data. All the current samples show the delta variant.  

“The highest level of transmission is when it’s absolutely in the community pervasively — that it's everywhere, that it's not just in a few places,” he said. “The probability that you would encounter this virus goes up when it achieves these levels.”

The team began collecting samples in July 2020 as part of the Co-Immunity Project, a partnership to track spread of the disease. This February, they started sequencing the samples to determine what strains of the coronavirus may be present. 

Each week, they take samples every 15 minutes over a 24-hour period from 17 sites in Jefferson County. Starting Sunday, they’ll take samples daily for at least the next two weeks, to help with early detection of omicron. 

As of Thursday, Jefferson County remained in the red on the state’s color-coded map of COVID-19 spread with 35.1 incidents per 100,000 residents. A county is designated red when it is at 25 incidents per 100,000 residents or more. 

There were 2,813 new cases reported Friday in Kentucky and 64 new deaths.

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.

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