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Omicron has vastly surpassed delta variant in Vegas wastewater, UNLV researchers find

Dr. Edwin Oh
Posted at 10:15 PM, Jan 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-05 01:07:40-05

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Researchers tracking COVID-19 in Southern Nevada's wastewater reported a stunning finding on Monday.

Not only are viral loads at an all-time high, but the omicron variant has essentially displaced the delta variant. That's according to Dr. Edwin Oh, an associate professor at UNLV's Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine.

UNLV scientists have been using wastewater — more commonly known as sewage — to help track the virus and broader pandemic in Southern Nevada. Like anything else, the virus passes through the human body and into Las Vegas' sewer system. Samples from different neighborhoods around the valley are collected, and scientists analyze the viral load in the samples to track different strains and potential mutations.

MORE: UNLV researchers testing sewage for COVID mutations

Currently, more than 80% of genomes in wastewater are omicron, and the scientists predict between 8 and 9 out of every 10 new cases will be the omicron variant for at least the next three weeks, Oh said.

"At this point, we are using wastewater to determine whether 100% of all Delta sub-lineages will be deleted," Oh wrote in an email to 13 Action News.

Dr. Edwin Oh
Dr. Edwin Oh, associate professor at UNLV's school of medicine, is among the researchers tracking viral loads of coronavirus in Southern Nevada's wastewater to help determine where the virus is spreading and how it is mutating in our community.

Scientists around the world are working to determine how the omicron variant might mutate, and wastewater surveillance plays a big part in finding that answer, Oh added.

The first known case of the omicron variant in Nevada was reported Dec. 14 in Clark County. Evidence that omicron had taken Southern Nevada by storm became apparent over the holidays, with the Southern Nevada Health District recording a new record of daily cases last week. Health officials attributed the increase to omicron, as well as more people gathering and traveling over the holidays.

On Monday, University Medical Center warned that wait times may be longer for routine and non-urgent care in light of the spike in cases, and Gov. Steve Sisolak issued a statement asking Nevadans to get vaccinated, boosted, and to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, in an effort to stop the spread.

Demand for COVID-19 testshas increased rapidly as well. On Sunday, UNLV's test site shut down after administering 1,750 tests, when typical daily demand had been about 150 tests.