Covid-19 wastewater levels spike to 10 times more than previously detected in Wisconsin

NOW: Covid-19 wastewater levels spike to 10 times more than previously detected in Wisconsin

WISCONSIN (CBS 58) -- Up to 10 times the amount of COVID-19 is being detected in wastewater in communities in Wisconsin over the amounts detected in August.

It begs the question, could this translate to even more hospitalizations to come?

Wastewater testing is used as a way to independently verify prevalence of COVID-19 in communities separate from testing, and now those levels are spiking.

"We've seen it drop down when cases are low, and we've seen it spike up when there's surges, and in this surge we really see levels increasing rapidly over the past six to eight weeks," said Doctor of Microbiology and UWM School of Fresh Water Sciences Professor Sandra McLellan.

She said they've been monitoring COVID-19 in wastewater for a year and a half now, and when comparing numbers now to last summer, when they improved their detection methods, things are spiking quickly.

"The spikes we've seen have really gone up steadily -- two, three-fold, and now it can be as high as six or ten-fold over our lowest from the summertime," said McLellen.

She said in the past, these spikes have been used to predict things such as hospitalizations, and state-wide, many different communities are being monitored.

"What we're really concerned about is stressing our hospital system and of course people getting seriously ill," said McLellen.

But there could be hope-- Britain's public health agency announced that early data points to people with the Omicron variant being 50-70% less likely to wind up being hospitalized.

Although they urged people to take the early data with a grain of salt, McLellan said as we face Omicron, high levels of COVID-19 cases might not be the whole story.

"So it could be, and I've heard this over and over, that actually hospitalizations might be a measure of really the impact in the community more so than the positive tests or even the wastewater concentrations that we're seeing," said McLellen.

That U.K. study noted that this doesn't mean health systems won't be overrun due to the Omicron variant.

Health officials are still asking people to get vaccinated and follow protocols.

You can see the data for yourself by clicking here.

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