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

In one week, omicron went from showing up in 2 treatment centers to 15 of 63 wastewater samples tested.

ST. LOUIS — As the omicron variant continues to fuel a surge of COVID-19 cases nationwide a team of researchers at a local university set up a surveillance system to track the spread across Missouri.

“If you’re infected it eventually comes out the back end, and eventually ends up in a wastewater treatment plant,” said Marc Johnson, a professor at the University of Missouri School of Medicine. “If there’s a virus that means there’s RNA, and if there’s RNA we can sequence it.”

By testing wastewater, they watched as delta devastated the landscape.

“Delta went from 1 sewer shed, to 4 sewer sheds, to almost everything,” said Johnson.

However, Johnson said omicron has proven to be a bit different.

“Omicron has followed a traditional route, and it’s just now arriving in Missouri, but it’s spreading like wildfire,” said Johnson.

In one week, omicron went from showing up in 2 treatment centers to 15 of 63 treatment centers, mostly along the I-70 corridor.

“There’s a storm coming,” said Johnson. “Don’t think otherwise.”

While those numbers seem low test results usually lag about a week behind, but that doesn’t mean you should flush them all together.

“With omicron, we know how it works,” said Johnson. “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.”

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.”

If you would like a look at what's in your wastewater the University of Missouri team posts its results online weekly.

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