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How UNLV research helps Nevada better understand and track COVID variants

Posted at 7:16 PM, Nov 29, 2021

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Scientists across the world are racing to understand the Omicron variant of COVID-19, and that includes right here in Las Vegas, with research happening at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

UNLV’s Wastewater Surveillance Program is primarily about identifying new variants and helps the state identify if, and when, they show up.

“It’s really the sole purpose of this type of program: Are variants present in the United States and how quickly are they spreading?” said Edwin Oh, a professor at the UNLV School of Medicine.

We have seen many COVID-19 mutations this year, from Alpha in the UK to Epsilon in California. UNLV’s program looks at wastewater in Las Vegas to determine if a variant is here in our community.

“What we definitely know is that these variants get spread with folks traveling on planes from one location to another,” Oh said.

The reason why Omicron is catching the world’s attention is because of its apparent infection rate.

“Seeing numbers go from 10 to 50 to 500 to 5,000 within a couple of days is the definition of a variant that could be potentially escaping a vaccine,” Oh said.

There is an opportunity for it to mutate the more it spreads, and that is why he says vaccinating is important.

“Our vaccination rates need to go up, and I think if we’re able to get those numbers up we will be able to avoid any serious complications,” said Oh, adding that it will likely take another week or two of research before the world can truly evaluate any possible new dangers coming from this variant.