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Omicron variant becoming more widespread in Missouri's wastewater tests

The omicron variant was detected in 32 of the 57 wastewater samples collected on Dec. 20, including seven in St. Louis County and five in St. Charles County.

ST. LOUIS — The omicron variant was detected in more than half of the wastewater samples in the most recent round of testing, a significant increase from previous weeks.

According to a press release from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, the omicron variant of the coronavirus was detected in 32 of the 57 wastewater samples collected on Dec. 20 and analyzed in Missouri in the most recent round of testing. The results came as part of expanded testing after the variant was first discovered in samples from Jackson and Buchanan counties on Dec. 7 and 8.

“Our robust program for monitoring COVID-19 through sewer shed sampling provides us with reliable information regarding the presence of the virus and its variants,” said Donald Kauerauf, DHSS Director. “The existence of the Omicron variant is becoming much more prevalent each week, making the actions of COVID-19 individual testing, vaccination, and other mitigation measures more important as we already face the threat of the Delta variant and an increase in flu cases.”

Omicron was detected in seven facilities in St. Louis County and five in St. Charles County.

The monitoring program is part of a joint effort with the University of Missouri School of Medicine. Marc Johnson, with the school of medicine, said the RNA of the virus shows up in human waste and can be detected through sampling.

He said in the span of a week, omicron went from showing up in 2 treatment centers to 15 of 63 treatment centers they tested. Now, that number is up to 32.

“With omicron, we know how it works,” Johnson said in an interview with 5 On Your Side's Holden Kurwicki. “It spreads really quickly, and everything we’re seeing in Missouri supports that. I expect it to be in every sewer shed in the state in a week or two.”

RELATED: 'There's a storm coming': Mizzou researchers detect omicron in wastewater along I-70 corridor

Johnson and his team are sounding the alarm on omicron, but he said this information shouldn’t scare you.

“If you’re vaccinated, you’re going to live through this,” said Johnson. “You might think you’re going to die, but you’re not going to. If you’re unvaccinated now’s your chance.”

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