We’re losing track of COVID-19 and will be biting our ass.


As dangerous new variants evolve more and more rapidly, cases of COVID-19 are increasing in many countries. At the same time, individual tests are carried out. Under.

It may seem like a dangerous combination. If authorities cannot pinpoint where and how quickly the virus is spreading, it may not help protect vulnerable communities.

Fortunately, there is one way to track SARS-CoV-2 without resorting to drive-thru testing sites or testing from pharmacies, clinics, or hospitals. More and more scientists are looking for viruses in sewers. In other words, in our toilet bowl. “Wastewater seems to be the key to early detection, especially in the context of increased home testing and reduced reporting,” Niema Moshiri, a geneticist at the University of California, San Diego, told The Daily Beast. .

However, there are major problems with this wastewater monitoring. Any method of monitoring the pandemic itself must be global. North America, Europe, Australia and parts of Asia have fairly good wastewater monitoring systems, but China, currently the most vulnerable to COVID-19, hasI never do that.

In a new scientific study, experts explained that China should start shifting to wastewater monitoring as individual tests depend on Beijing’s unsustainable zero-closure policy for coronavirus. It won’t be easy.

It is important not to exaggerate the recent slight increase in COVID-19 cases worldwide. A new highly contagious strain of the novel coronavirus, the offspring of the omicron mutation that first appeared last fall, is driving a surge in outbreaks in the United States, South Africa and several other countries, including North Korea.

Thanks to vaccines and antibodies from past infections, these surges are not as severe or fatal as previous surges. Amid the overall global decline in COVID-19, the U.S. has increased infections from one-year lows. 30,000 new cases per day In late March and early April, there were 85,000 new cases per day over the past week. Meanwhile, in South Africa, the number of new cases per day increased from 1,300 to 7,700 over the same period.

Of course, hospitalizations and deaths have hardly increased thanks to all the vaccines and antibodies. Perhaps more worrisome is the decrease in tests followed with the increase in infections. At the same time as the COVID-19 surge, we seem to be losing our original tools for tracking disease.

In the United States, we are testing 2.5 million people every day at pharmacies, drive-thru sites and other locations, and state authorities have reported the test results to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Today we are testing only 55,000 people per day. Individual tests are collapsing in other countries as well.

Monitoring sewage is important to address the future challenges of a public health emergency.

There is one very good reason for this decline. Home testing is now affordable, reliable and readily available. President Joe Biden’s administration 8 free antigen tests per household.

When testing at home, you are not obligated to report the results to the authorities. Millions of people around the world may be infected, tested, self-isolating and recovering from COVID-19 without governments knowing.

It’s possible, but not likely. In the United States, for example, the CDC took action quickly in 2020, setting up a national wastewater monitoring system that includes 886 sites across 50 states, tribal lands, and U.S. territories.

Testers pump water from water treatment plants, sewage and septic tanks, test SARS-CoV-2 and record the results. Sequencing a random sample allows you to accurately determine which variants and sub-variations exist in a particular community. It was wastewater monitoring that warned of a regional surge for the BA.2.12 sub-variant of Omicron in and around New York, beginning in late March.

European countries, Australia and countries across Asia have also stepped up their own wastewater monitoring. A global surveillance system that does not rely on voluntary individual testing is taking shape.

Of course, it’s not perfect. CDC “Wastewater data intended for use with other COVID-19 surveillance data” stress on the website.

“Wastewater monitoring doesn’t provide the same level of localization as reported clinical tests,” Rob Knight, director of the Institute of Genetic Computation at the University of California, San Diego, told The Daily Beast. “The Point Loma wastewater treatment plant in San Diego handles 2.3 million people, so you don’t know if the signal is coming from a particular area, as in clinical testing.”

“But wastewater is better than that, because unreported home screenings don’t provide any public health information.”

The bigger problem is China. China’s 1.4 billion people make up 18% of the world’s population and are more vulnerable to COVID-19 than most countries. The Chinese government’s zero-corona policy, which has shut down cities to contain the spread of the virus, has had tragic side effects.

Few people have contracted COVID-19 in China for more than two years. That said, when the highly contagious omicron variant and its sub-variants appeared, few people in China had the natural antibody, and whole cities in Hong Kong, Shenzhen and other cities were immediately breached under lockdown. . It didn’t help that the Chinese government pushed a locally made vaccine that might not be as effective as the best messenger RNA jab made in the West.

China’s daily new cases peaked at 30,600 at the end of April. It has since dropped below 10,000. But much of China is still locked up. And if that’s true, individual tests really don’t matter. Health authorities in major cities may mandate and enforce frequent testing at government-run sites.

However, experts agree that China’s zero-coronavirus strategy is not sustainable. Not only is it unpopular with many Chinese, it stifles China’s economic growth and risks a recession in countries that rely on China and trade with China.

When coronavirus zero ends, individual tests in China could collapse in the same way as in other countries. And there is no national wastewater monitoring system to catch the slack in the data. yet. A team led by Ying Zhang, an environmental engineer at Fuzhou University in China, said, “Monitoring sewage is important to address the future problems of public health emergencies.” Explained in a new academic study.

Part of the problem is that, despite all the rapid economic growth over the past generation, China is still a developing country and development is uneven. It is evident in the sewage system. Ying’s team wrote, “The distribution of pipelines across the country is disproportionate.” Drainage is concentrated in the industrial eastern part at the expense of the western rural areas, leaving a potential gap in surveillance.

And the existing pipes are not always well made. “In China, the operation, management and maintenance of the drainage system does not receive much attention, which causes serious problems within the drainage system such as seepage, overflow and clogging in many cities.” A clogged and leaking pipe can damage the sample.

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Chinese news service

In light of the challenges, Ying and his co-authors have proposed starting small with a partial surveillance system in a large city and scaling up as the infrastructure permits. Either way, China has to. what To stay ahead of the downside potential of individual tests.

The epidemic is not over. New variants and sub-variants are provided. You’ll need someone to monitor your pipes so you don’t get tested at the corner pharmacies. And this has to happen globally.

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