How one wastewater plant became a leading COVID-19 forecasting source

This week, I had a new story published with FiveThirtyEight and the Documenting COVID-19 project about the data and implementation challenges of wastewater surveillance. As bonus material in today’s COVID-19 Data Dispatch, I wanted to share one of the interviews I did for the story, which provides a good case study of the benefits and challenges of COVID-19 surveillance in wastewater.

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Omicron keeps mutating as U.S. cases rise

As though it’s not already confusing enough to distinguish between Omicron BA.1 and BA.2, more sublineages have popped up in recent weeks as Omicron continues to spread and mutate. Here are two that I’m watching, though they don’t seem to be major causes for concern at this time.

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The US still doesn’t have the data we need to make informed decisions on booster shots

Last fall, I wrote that the U.S. did not have the data we needed to make informed decisions about booster shots. Several months later, we still don’t have the data we need, as questions about a potential BA.2 wave and other future variants abound. Discussions at a recent FDA advisory committee meeting made these data gaps clear.

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A BA.2 surge is approaching: Here’s what you should know about this variant

Europe’s new surge is likely due to European leaders’ decisions to end all COVID-19 safety measures in their countries, combined with the rise of Omicron sublineage BA.2. As BA.2 prevalence increases here in the U.S.—and our leaders also end safety measures—we seem poised to follow in Europe’s footsteps once again. But a BA.2 surge is likely to look different from the intense Omicron surge that we experienced in December and January, in part because of leftover immunity from that Omicron surge.

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The CDC is finally publishing wastewater data—but only ten states are well-represented

This week, the CDC added wastewater tracking to its COVID-19 data dashboard. Wastewater has been an important COVID-tracking tool throughout the pandemic, but it gained more public interest in recent months as Omicron’s rapid spread showed the utility of this early warning system. While the CDC’s new wastewater tracker offers a decent picture of national COVID-19 trends, it’s basically useless for local data in the majority of states.

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