Another wastewater warning shows coronavirus spread in Butler County

Wastewater is another way the novel coronavirus can spread within a community, health officials say. NICK GRAHAM/FILE
Wastewater is another way the novel coronavirus can spread within a community, health officials say. NICK GRAHAM/FILE

High levels of coronavirus were detected in wastewater in Oxford this week, which continued a program monitoring wastewater to identify areas of spread and was the second time an alarm was sounded for a Butler County community.

The presence of the COVID-19 virus in wastewater is an early indicator of community spread, according to the Butler County General Health District. Three samples taken on multiple days from the Oxford Wastewater Treatment Plant showed evidence of increased COVID-19 community spread.

“The Ohio Department of Health continues to monitor wastewater within communities across the state,” said Butler County General Health District Environmental Health Director Carrie Yeager. “Wastewater data can be one of the first indicators that notify a community that the risk of getting the disease is high.”

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Earlier this year, Butler County volunteered to be part of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency research project to test sewage for early detection of the novel coronavirus. The Ohio Wastewater Monitory Network has tested wastewater samples across Ohio to look for gene copies or fragments of COVID-19.

Yeager said when a community experiences a sustained increase of fragments from the virus, health districts receive an alert.

Hamilton was flagged for this several weeks ago, and the city’s wastewater facility showed a 10-times increase in possible COVID-19 cases from the week prior. City of Hamilton Health Commissioner Kay Farrar told the Journal-News in November the increase was “very significant” and immediately began planning for a pop-up testing site.

Butler County Health Commissioner Jennifer Bailer said that despite the excitement novel coronavirus vaccines are being administered, “December has been a hard COVID month for Butler County.”

“We shattered daily new case counts on several occasions. Hospitals have sent pleas to ‘stay home’ as they manage ICU occupancy and staffing shortages throughout the region,” she said. “The increase of COVID-19 fragments in the wastewater tells us that spread of the virus is higher than we have previously seen.”

As of Thursday, there have been more than 653,000 confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases reported to the state, with 8,828 reported Thursday.

Bailer said the public should remain vigilant in following public health advice on wearing masks, social distancing and hand-washing.

“During this holiday season, when many have plans to gather and spread of the virus is high, our community should be especially vigilant,” she said.

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