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COVID levels rising in Bay Area wastewater. Is the surge here?

The Bay Area is experiencing another sharp spike in the coronavirus, as wastewater samples from the region’s sewer sheds show a new COVID-19 surge is already under way and could soon surpass the previous winter wave in the number of people who get infected.

“We remember that the last two winters have been extraordinarily difficult. I, unfortunately, need to tell you that this winter is shaping up to be no different,” Dr. Sara Cody, the health officer for Santa Clara County, said at a Tuesday press briefing. “Our wastewater numbers are absolutely skyrocketing.”

On a chart illustrating the concentration of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in four South Bay sewer sheds, Cody noted that the lines tracking the most recent levels were heading “straight up.” At least two of the lines showed levels of the virus higher than the first devastating omicron peak.

“The levels of virus in the sewer sheds come before the cases,” Cody said. “People might not know they are infected. They might not know they have symptoms and they’re still going to show up in the sewer sheds.”

While official COVID-19 case numbers also show a sharp rise, they do not capture the true scale of the virus in the community because a majority of people use home tests, the results of which are not reported to county or state public health authorities.