LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Testing Las Vegas' wastewater to track COVID-19 and its variants is how we found out when delta and omicron arrived in Southern Nevada.
13 Action News spoke with Dr. Edwin Oh, an associate professor at UNLV and the leader of this wastewater testing, to find out how prevalent the omicron variant is in Southern Nevada and how fast it's spreading.
"The viral loads are at an all-time high in our communities," Oh said.
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He says recent tests have revealed there is more COVID-19 in Southern Nevada's sewage right now than at any other time since they started testing, and he's certain the omicron variant is to blame.
"As of now, 80% in some communities is made up of omicron. And in some communities, it's up to 95% of all genomes are omicron," Oh said, "and our sequencing of clinical samples will probably reflect this in the next two weeks, at most three weeks."
He says not only has omicron overtaken delta as the dominant variant in southern Nevada, but it did so far faster than any other COVID variant thus far.
"Just three weeks ago, we saw 100% of delta within our wastewater genomes. This has completely flipped within a span of two weeks, and three weeks for some places," Oh said. "We first detected omicron on December the seventh from an access point that services the Las Vegas Strip, so we knew it was here. We just didn't expect it to, again, take over so quickly."
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Early studies suggest infections from omicron are less severe than delta, so we thought the news of omicron displacing delta in southern Nevada may be encouraging, but Dr. Brian Labus, an assistant professor at UNLV, says not so fast.
"It's not a bad thing that we have a less severe virus, but if it spreads more quickly, we are going to have more people infected. And just because it is better, doesn't mean it's good. If there's a slightly lower death rate, yes that's great. If there's a slightly lower hospitalization rate, that's great," Labus said. "We are still seeing a lot of disease that's resulting in hospitalizations, and we are still dealing with a really serious infection here. It's not that it became a mild disease like the cold, it's just slightly less serious than it was before, but it's still serious."