Houston health officials announced that the B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant first seen in the UK has been identified in over half of the city’s wastewater treatment plants.
“There is a fairly large amount of the UK variant in our community,” said Houston Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Persse in a news conference. “And it is spreading.”
Persse said the variant was identified in 21 out of 39 wastewater treatment plants on Feb. 8 and two weeks later on Feb. 22 the variant was found in 31 plants.
“In the end, what we found is that 19% of all the virus that has been tested in the wastewater tests across the city has the genome that is consistent with the UK variant,” said Persse. Other variants of the virus, such as the Brazilian and South Africa variants, were also found in the city’s wastewater, but the measurements were not available to report, according to Persse.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Covid-19 can be shed in the feces of people with symptomatic or asymptomatic infections. Wastewater testing can provide data on changes of viral infection within a community.
With the Texas mask mandate being lifted on Wednesday, city officials expressed concerns for another surge if people do not continue to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines.
“We’re not there yet. Those viruses are in the community,” said Persse. “The race is on to get as many people vaccinated as possible before the UK variant is able to take over and cause us to have another surge.”