This week, I had a new article published in The Atlantic about how COVID-19 wastewater surveillance can be useful beyond entire sewersheds, the setting where this testing usually takes place. Sewershed testing is great for broad trends about large populations (like, an entire city or county), the story explains. But if you’re a public health official seeking truly actionable data to inform policies, it’s helpful to get more specific.
As someone who’s been reporting on COVID-19 since the beginning, a new year is a good opportunity to parse out what feels like an eternity of pandemic reporting. So this week, I reflected on the major trends and topics I hope to cover in 2023—both building on my work from prior years and taking it in new directions.
XBB.1.5 is the latest Omicron subvariant to spread rapidly through the U.S. It is, of course, more transmissible and more capable of evading immunity from past infections than other versions of Omicron that have gone before it, as this lineage continues mutating. Scientists are still learning about XBB.1.5; it emerged from the U.S. during the holiday season, which has posed surveillance challenges. But we know enough to say that this variant is bad news for an already overstretched healthcare system.
China has rolled back some of its most rigorous COVID-19 safety policies, essentially moving away from its “zero COVID” strategy, following recent protests. I am no expert on China’s political or health policies here, but I did want to share some reflections on what this rollback could mean for global COVID-19 data.
Last month, the CDC started publishing data from a surveillance program focused on international travelers coming into the U.S. I talked to bioinformatics experts involved with the program to learn more about how it works.
When the CDC updated its variant prevalence estimates this week, the agency added new versions of Omicron to the dashboard. In the U.S., COVID-19 cases are now driven by: BA.5, BA.4.6, BQ.1, BQ.1.1, BF.7, BA.2.75, and BA.2.75.2. And possibly more subvariants that we aren’t tracking yet.
As official COVID-19 case data become less and less reliable, wastewater surveillance can help provide a picture of where and how much the virus is spreading. This week, I put together a new COVID-19 Data Dispatch resource page that outlines major national, state, and local wastewater dashboards across the U.S.