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COVID: Lower Levels Of Viral RNA In Wastewater May Signal Turning Point In Surge

SAN JOSE (KPIX) -- As the Omicron rages on, Bay Area health experts believe we could be at a turning point in this latest surge of the pandemic, based on a decline in the virus' RNA detected in Santa Clara County's wastewater.

"It's not infrequent that roughly after about 10 days when you see the drop in the wastewater you see the cases start to drop," said UC Berkeley professor and infectious disease expert John Swartzberg.

According to a report of Santa Clara County's wastewater, a decline in COVID-19's RNA was seen on Jan. 8, and continued to drop for several days. It had peaked for several days prior.

The drop was followed by a decline in California's positivity rate, which has also continued to decrease. The latest report showed the state positivity rate at 21.5% -- a 1.3% decrease from seven days prior.

"I think there's a good chance that we're either at its crest or very near the crest," Dr. Swartzberg said of the pandemic's latest surge, which has been driven by the highly-transmissible Omicron variant.

California is not alone. New York saw a 47% drop in cases last Friday, and states in the Northeast are also seeing a decline or leveling off.

But Dr. Swartzberg warns it could be awhile before hospitalizations and deaths follow the drop in cases.

"Our hospitals are going to have another two weeks that are going to be very, very rough before we see those counts start to drop," he said.

It could take four weeks before a decrease in the death count caused by the virus, Swartzberg added.

The question of whether this latest surge could be the last is unknown, he said. Swarztberg said the virus could mutate into another variation that is more transmissible and deadly, but the difference is today -- we have vaccines and COVID pills that could save lives and prevent hospitalizations.

"This virus has a lot of tricks up its sleeve, I'm afraid," Dr. Swartzberg said. "But we have a lot of good science now to help us deal with it much better than we did even six months ago."

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