OWN VOICE. ~ InPerspective by Gregg Dieguez —
The COVID-19 virus detected in Sewer Authority Mid-coastside (SAM) wastewater increased 5,735% in just 17 days this month. SAM has been working with an MIT venture to measure the level of virus in our wastewater for some months (as reported here previously). This new test result was presented at the SAM Board Meeting on 5/23/22.
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These results are based on testing from an MIT venture under contract with SAM, which started some months ago. Recently, our local results are in the worst 8% of all samples the firm has collected nationally. The ‘effective virus concentration’ has gone up 57-fold (5,735%) in 17 days from May 2nd to 19th. Full presentation of the Board Meeting will be on PCTV as part of the SAM Board Meeting of 5/23/22 beginning at a recording timestamp of about 7:35pm. This information was so late-breaking that it did not make it into the SAM agenda packet.
For some weeks now, medical professionals have complained that reported test cases were a small fraction of actual cases caused by the milder “Sons Of Omicron”. When national averages were running 90,000 new cases daily, some sources were estimating that really meant 500,000 new cases, because so many people either don’t even realize they have COVID, or are just finding out via home tests and isolating themselves. When reported cases hit a daily average of 100,000, I read a report claiming there were really 750,000 cases, due to under-reporting. Testing sewage can help “clarify” this issue.
The advantages of testing wastewater are that: a) it shows the virus before people get around to realizing they have it, and getting tested, and for those test statistics to wend their way into the public health record — thus, it’s an “early warning system”, and b) it provides a result even for communities which avoid testing, and can provide regional comparisons independent from a region’s public health behavior and/or access to health care.
While it is acknowledged that Omicron is much milder than Delta and that we have more defenses against the virus now, Omicron is SO much more transmissible that overall deaths are once again increasing. Dr. Jeremy Faust and colleagues published research in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), reporting that the Omicron Covid-19 variant caused more excess mortality in Massachusetts than the Delta variant did. Here are some quotes from his weekly newsletter on this trend:
While this goes against the perceived “milder” nature of Omicron, the math makes sense. Even if each Omicron infection was 50% as lethal as earlier variants, … if Omicron is, say, four times more contagious than its predecessors, its rapid spread would mean that a higher number of deaths would be expected to occur. Think about it: 50% as lethal x 400% as contagious = 200% the mortality in a given time frame. That’s exactly what happened in Massachusetts and in other places (we have not yet published data from other states) during the Omicron wave.
We call this result the “mortality product.” … Why does that matter? For one thing, it means we can’t shrug off somewhat milder but highly contagious variants.
Looking at the table of recent results for SAM, we can see that the Effective Virus Concentration is about triple the prior peak in late April, so that even if the May 2nd sample is an erroneous reading, our Coastside is mirroring the national resurgence of the virus. From their JAMA study: “The per-week Omicron to Delta incident rate ratio for excess mortality was 3.34 (95% CI, 3.14-3.54)” They use excess deaths because, as we have seen in states across the nation, some Governors have politicized the definition of “Death WITH COVID” as opposed to “Death FROM COVID”. Excess deaths just compares the overall population mortality rate, and avoids any classification or definition debates. Those of us who are repeatedly vaccinated are certainly safer than we would be without the vaccines, and Omicron is weaker than Delta, but this group of viral variants is killing people in Massachusetts at over 3 times the rate of Delta because it is so much more infectious.
As with all COVID data and studies, stay tuned for more research to accumulate and either prove or disprove initial findings. But in the meantime, Be Careful Out There.
Mr. Dieguez is a native San Franciscan, longtime San Mateo County resident, and semi-retired entrepreneur who causes occasional controversy on the Coastside. He is a member of the MCC, but his opinions here are his own, and not those of the Council. In 2003 he co-founded MIT’s Clean Tech Program here in NorCal, which became MIT’s largest alumni speaker program. He lives in Montara. He loves a productive dialog in search of shared understanding.