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Missouri scientists testing wastewater samples for Omicron variant


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    KANSAS CITY, Missouri (KCTV) — Health officials and leaders across the world are monitoring the spread of the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron.

The variant, first identified by South African scientists, is believed to be potentially more transmissible which has led to a wave of travel restrictions across the globe.

In the Kansas City metro, researchers are monitoring and testing wastewater for Omicron.

Early in the pandemic, researchers in Missouri launched a wastewater program to detect viral load in water samples and identify hotspots, as well as new mutations. Currently, water samples are collected at nearly 100 sites across the state every week, some locations twice a week. The tests allow health officials to get an idea of virus spread in the community days before people test positive for COVID-19.

Marc Johnson is a professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia participating in the wastewater program. He says recent samples have shown the virus in the community is rising, but no signs of Omicron, yet.

“If this one appears in Missouri, it will stick out like a sore thumb,” Johnson explained as he mentioned the mutation this new variant has compared to Delta and others.

Johnson says while much is unknown about Omicron, its severity, transmissibility, spread, etc., he says it still appears vaccinated individuals are better protected than those who are not.

Jeff Wenzel works in epidemiology at the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. He says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reached out to all states to ask where more wastewater testing can be conducted. Health officials in Missouri came up with a few sites, but the CDC will ultimately determine where they’ll establish more testing in coming weeks.

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