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Las Vegas scientists find high levels of COVID-19 in recent samples of wastewater

Posted at 7:18 PM, May 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-27 00:24:06-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Certain zip codes throughout the valley are reporting a substantial rise in COVID-19 cases.

The Southern Nevada Health District released a map showing which zip codes were in the red zone. Some areas in North and East Las Vegas reported more than 17,000 cases on Monday.

Our human waste is giving us an idea of where we stand with COVID-19. Wastewater samples and other data are guiding the health district to pinpoint COVID-19 hot spots in the valley. Benny Burel who lives in the Summerlin area is located within a red zone.

"I’m very concerned, and the pandemic is far from being over," Burel said.

The Health District reported that Burel’s zip code area now has more than 10,000 cases of COVID-19, and rising. He says his health makes him vulnerable to the virus and the increasing cases are alarming.

"I like to go to casinos and resume a normal life again, but it is not necessary. It is still out there, and it has to be addressed," Burel said.

Detecting COVID-19 is what Dr. Edwin Oh, an associate professor at UNLV, is doing. He has been leading wastewater testing since the pandemic started. Samples are tested daily from wastewater throughout the entire valley. He says what they are finding lately is raising concerns.

"We have started to see an uptick in viral material in the wastewater and we are also seeing an increase in case infections,” Oh said.

Oh says he believes we can attribute the uptick to the new variant that has entered our community in the past month to the BA2.12.1 variant. He says it is highly contagious and contributes to the rapid rise in cases and hospitalizations.

"It is concerning to us, and that is why we are running this type of surveillance every week," he said.

Based on wastewater analysis, Oh says there are far more cases than what is being reported right now. The Southern Nevada Health District is encouraging everyone to be more cautious, vaccinate and wear masks in indoor public places.

13 Actions News asked Governor Steve Sisolak what would be next if the uptick continues.

"We definitely aren’t going back, the state has gone a long way and numbers took a little bit of a tick, but they aren’t going up excessively. The economic numbers are looking great," Sisolak said.

Burel says he thinks the governor removed protective requirements way too soon, and he is worried that another wave is upon us.

"There is no safety factor with the large gatherings," Burel said.

Especially with Memorial Day right around the corner, Oh says that these cases and these numbers will continue to rise. He is asking everyone to take the appropriate measures to avoid getting COVID-19.