“We measure the amount of virus that has the parental sequence and the amount of virus with the mutant sequences,” explains Rose Nash, director of R&D for the company. “Most of the samples don’t come back positive, but what we see in the samples that come back positive are levels of around 5% of the variant. We expect this to increase. “
Since the wastewater test has only been in use for a few weeks, it is too early to tell whether the levels of the variants are increasing or decreasing, based solely on these tests. “There’s no distinct trend in the variant yet,” says Mike Shaffer, who manages data from Oxnard, Calif., A beach town northwest of Los Angeles, which found low levels of the variant in January.
Shaffer says he also wants to confirm that the test does find the British variant, not a similar strain, and says the Oxnard sewer samples were sent to Stanford University for sequencing. Christopher McKee, CEO of GT Molecular, agrees that the science behind variant testing “is still fairly nascent.”
According to GT Molecular, several other districts in California and Florida have positive results but have not reported them. “To me it’s no good if you don’t put it there,” Torres said. “We need to communicate it to the people who can fix it.”
However, so far news of the variant in sewage or its spread has not led to a major change in public policy. As of yet, there is no national plan to deal with the threat that the variant will spread rapidly and increase the number of cases.
Robert Levin, the public health official for Ventura County, where Oxnard is located, presented the wastewater results at a supervisory board meeting last week. “They found a tiny amount of variants that are considered hyper-transmissible,” Levin said. “The impact this will have on our county cannot be predicted. It is uncharted territory. “