OWN VOICE. ~ InPerspective by Gregg Dieguez —
No one really knows the extent of COVID-19 cases anymore. Because the recent variants have been so mild, and many people are vaccinated and boosted, many newly infected people have minor to no symptoms, and even those who do get it and test at home often don’t go to a health care provider who would report the case to Public Health (PH) authorities. I’ve heard estimates claiming ‘real’ cases range from 5 to 7 times the reported numbers. But there is a way the PH authorities, and you, can track COVID from home, even faster than with published test results…
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The COVID-19 pandemic has gone through several phases. The most recent OMICRON phase was huge, much larger than any before, but while cases tripled the previous high, deaths only rose to 80% of the prior Alpha variant peak. Even now, with cases again surging due to relaxation of PH behaviors, the death rate is “low” – for this Pandemic – at about 140,000 per year. That’s about 20 times the highest annual Polio death count in the 20th century, so it’s still a serious concern, and one worth staying on top of as it continues to evolve.
As we reported previously, SAM has been testing wastewater for COVID with an MIT spin-off, BioBot.
Scientists have known the potential for wastewater-based epidemiology for decades. Israel has monitored wastewater for polio since the late 1980s. The COVID pandemic is the first time wastewater has been used to track a respiratory disease. SAM also began testing with a Stanford spin-off, Verily. Verily is a subsidiary of Alphabet (Google), which provides a similar service, called Wastewater SCAN, with several claimed advantages:
- It is free for at least one year. The only cost to SAM is the staff time to take and forward the samples in special mailing kits.
- It has a larger enrollment over a longer period of time.
- It tests solids as well as fluids, with a claimed advantage in sensitivity.
- It can detect, in addition to COVID, the Flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
- It will be done 3 times per week, instead of every couple of weeks.
- Results will be available within 48 hours of shipping.
- Results can be viewed on a public dashboard at: publichealth.verily.com
- The results clearly identify each variant of COVID, and which is surging or falling.
- Public Health can become aware rapidly of new variants in the community, and adjust treatment plans accordingly.
On the last point, some monoclonal antibody treatments work on some variants of SARS-COV-2 (COVID), but not others. By noting the dominant strain in a local area, PH and doctors can stockpile and distribute the more likely effective treatments sooner. More information on the testing program is available in the Footnote, and at this website: wastewaterscan.org
On the Verily dashboard, above right, are the SAM results, which parallel the recent May surge also reported by BioBot.
And here at left is a longer term view from Davis, CA. Both charts clearly show the newest version of Omicron BA.4 is coming – and thus inform the treatment regimen required:
The full staff report on Verily and the testing program is in the June 13, 2022 SAM agenda packet:
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.