Recent wastewater testing reports increased amount of COVID-19 Omicron variant

by | Jan 6, 2022

Reno, Sparks Nev. Jan. 5, 2022. Recent sampling of wastewater in Washoe County found a 10-fold increase in COVID-19 detection as well as a high proportion of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, according to researchers from the University of Nevada, Reno.

Data from the Truckee Meadows Water Reclamation Facility, where a majority of wastewater comes through for the area, first detected the presence of the Omicron variant on Dec. 12, 2021. The first COVID-19 Omicron variant case confirmed through sequencing was reported Dec. 20, 2021.

As of Jan. 5, 2022, there have been 61 confirmed COVID-19 Omicron variant cases in Washoe County.  Only a portion of positive tests are sequenced, and the total number of Omicron cases is significantly higher.  Based on the wastewater sampling almost all of the current new cases should be considered to be  Omicron.

Since November 29, 2021, data indicated that the SARS-CoV-2 concentrations increased, even though the daily COVID-19 clinical cases were trending down. During the Christmas holidays, the concentrations of COVID-19 increased dramatically.

Testing, analyzing and sequencing wastewater samples – which includes sewage from homes, businesses and facilities like airports, hotels and casinos – can be used as an indicator of COVID-19 up to 7 days in advance. The samples are collected from 12 sewer sites, spread all over the region, and together give comprehensive data on COVID-19 without interrupting people’s lives.

“This data is predictive of the significant increase in new cases that we are currently experiencing,” said Kevin Dick, District Health Officer in Washoe County. “We hope people will understand that COVID-19 is still impacting the community.  Omicron is here in a big way and receiving a COVID-19 vaccination, and booster when eligible, is what’s going to help us get through this pandemic in the safest way possible.”

Initial funding for the wastewater research was provided by the Cities of Reno and Sparks and Washoe County through CARES Act funding. Additional funding to continue the research through 2022 was approved by the City of Sparks using ARPA funds.

With the spread of the Omicron variant and COVID-19 cases increasing in Washoe County, it’s recommended that you receive a COVID-19 test if you are showing signs of COVID-19 or were in close contact (6 feet or less for 15 minutes) to a positive case.

You can find testing at four area test sites seven days a week, the Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center or other locations here.

The COVID-19 vaccine remains the best way to protect you and your loved ones from severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19. Those aged 5 and older are eligible to receive the free vaccine. To get a COVID-19 vaccine or booster, visit http://www.vaccines.gov. You can also find a community vaccine event here.

The COVID-19 Regional Information Center is working together to deliver COVID-19 community updates in a unified manner. While press releases are only sent periodically for significant events, you can always get daily results on our website, https://covid19washoe.com/, our COVID-19 Dashboard or by following us on Twitter @COVID19Washoe. The entities include: City of Reno, City of Sparks, North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District, Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, Regional Transportation Commission, REMSA Health, Reno Sparks Indian Colony, Reno Police Department, Reno Fire Department, Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District, University of Nevada, Reno, Washoe County, Washoe County Health District, Washoe County School District and Washoe County Sheriff’s Office. Also in the group are Community Health Alliance and the area hospitals, Northern Nevada Medical Center, Renown Health and Saint Mary’s.