August 15, 2022


COVID-19 viral load up 630 percent in Houston-area wastewater

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The amount of coronavirus in Houston wastewater—a marker of the prevalence of COVID-19 infection in...

The amount of coronavirus in Houston wastewater—a marker of the prevalence of COVID-19 infection in the area—has spiked in recent weeks, according to the Houston Health Department.  

Per the Health Department’s data, the total amount of coronavirus in Houston-area wastewater treatment plants— or “viral load”—is over 630 percent higher than a previous high mark established on July 6, 2020. This spike exceeds another peak from about three weeks ago when Houston’s coronavirus wastewater levels were about 500 percent higher than the 2020 benchmark.

The Health Department selected Jul. 6, 2020 as a guide post for infection due to especially high COVID-19 positivity rates measured in Houston on that date. The department’s Wastewater Monitoring Dashboard tracks testing results of water samples taken from treatment plants across Harris County. 

This new spike comes as daily case counts in Harris County have increased by 69 percent over the past two weeks, according to New York Times data–driving the county’s total COVID-19 case count to more than 1 million confirmed cases since the pandemic’s onset, according to Johns Hopkins University. 

Texas’ COVID-19 test positivity rate surpassed 25 percent over the past seven days; only five other states and Puerto Rico have positivity rates of this magnitude, CDC data shows.   

More troubling is that these figures more than likely fall short of capturing the true degree of the state’s recent surge in transmissions. Even as Omicron subvariant BA.5 establishes itself as a dominant strain in the U.S., public testing sites across the country have been closing their doors, making it harder for scientists to monitor the real-time spread of COVID-19.  

See also  Houston wastewater indicates rise in COVID-19 throughout Bayou City

Hospitalization rates have also increased by about 22 percent in Harris County and by 35 percent statewide over the past two weeks. In the same time frame, nearly every county bordering Harris County has seen increases in cases, including a 160 percent spike in Grimes County; 111 percent in Liberty County; 86 percent in Brazoria County; 72 percent in Montgomery County; 55 percent in Galveston County; and 54 percent in Fort Bend County. 

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