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'It’s pretty high right now' | COVID-19 wastewater levels equal to what they were during the delta surge

Exposure to newer coronavirus variants are contributing to new COVID-19 cases.
Credit: UNC Charlotte

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — Researchers are urging cautionary practices as COVID-19 metrics continue to increase in North Carolina and Mecklenburg County

The latest data from Mecklenburg County shows there’s high transmission of COVID-19 again. Several different metrics play into that designation, but researchers say wastewater levels, in particular, are similar to what they were during the delta peak.

Research suggests that 4 to 6 days before a positive test, COVID-19 particles show up in our wastewater. Testing demand ebbs and flows, but samples from our sewer lines give scientists a steady stream of data. Currently, the wastewater levels in the Charlotte area are in the red.

“What that means is that the values we’re seeing are in the top 20th percentile or above of any values that we’ve seen in the history of monitoring that site," Cynthia Gibas, one of the head researchers at the UNC Charlotte bioinformatics and genomics lab said. "So it’s pretty high right now."

Gibas runs the sequencing lab where wastewater monitoring has been underway since September 2020. She said overall in North Carolina, those levels are not as high as during the omicron peak but the trend is familiar.

“What’s unknown is, is this a peak right now, or is this just an upward trajectory because there are two more variants of concern, BA.4 and BA.5, that are coming in behind the current one,” she said.

RELATED: What the new dominant COVID-19 strain in the U.S. could be

The current dominant strain is BA.2.12.1, another omicron subvariant. It makes up the majority of cases in the state and county. The World Health Organization has listed BA.4 and BA.5 as variants of concern. They have been detected in North Carolina, but not yet in Mecklenburg County.

Gibas said that will likely change soon.

“Right now we’re in a higher risk period and if you are the kind of person who feels like you need to be careful, want to be careful, this is a good time to be careful,” she said.

There’s still little strain on the hospital system right now but experts urge people to take the necessary steps to keep it that way. Only 35% of eligible people in the county have gotten their booster shot. Doctors say the booster shot helps prevent severe disease during coronavirus infections.

RELATED: Here's who's eligible for a COVID-19 booster right now

Several North Carolina counties have been upgraded to the CDC’s high COVID-19 community level.

Mecklenburg County is still at the medium level. No counties in the greater charlotte are in the high level yet.

RELATED: COVID-19 levels upgraded to 'medium' in Mecklenburg County

Contact Chloe Leshner at cleshner@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. 

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