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Orange County Utilities Detects Historic Increase in Coronavirus Remnants

Data indicates rapid rise in viral remnants within county’s wastewater.

Orange County, Fla.– Data received by Orange County Utilities on Wednesday, December 29, 2021 reports historic increases of COVID-19 remnants in the county’s wastewater service areas. Data shows that the Omicron variant, first detected in the county in early December, has rapidly become the most dominant version of the virus.

Orange County’s wastewater surveillance program breaks the data down into three distinct regions based on the nearest water reclamation facility. Data received on Wednesday shows unprecedented levels of viral remnants in gene copies per liter in all three areas.

  • The Eastern Water Reclamation Facility reported 8,284,036 gene copies per liter
  • The South Water Reclamation Facility reported 7,608,370 gene copies per liter
  • The Northwest Water Reclamation Facility reported 4,265,135 gene copies per liter

This new data shows numbers more than double previous record highs for each service area. Before this week, the highest number of viral remnants in gene copies recorded was 3 million at the Eastern Water Reclamation Facility in July 2021; 1 million at the South Water Reclamation Facility in August 2021; and 2.8 million at the Northwest Water Reclamation Facility in September 2021.

“While the rapid increase is concerning, I want to stress to our residents, business owners and guests that there are precautions we can take to protect ourselves and our loved ones,” stated Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings. “We should all remain vigilant and continue to wear masks and follow other precautions to limit the spread of the coronavirus as best we can.”

Orange County Utilities cautions that the spikes may go higher once Christmas celebrations are factored in. Right now, the data is derived from samples taken on December 27, 2021—too close to attribute to social gatherings on Christmas and Christmas Eve. Samples taken in the coming days may connect additional increases to holiday gatherings. The next round of samples will be taken today, December 30, 2021 and the results are expected early next week. However, the holidays could delay the results.

“This data helps predict infections four to 10 days before we see changes in our community’s caseload, allowing county leadership and medical professionals to adjust public health resources accordingly,” said Ed Torres, Director of Orange County Utilities. “Because both symptomatic and asymptomatic carriers of the virus shed remnants in their waste, this data provides an accurate picture of how the virus is spreading in our community regardless of the number of people tested.”

Orange County’s sampling regiment is part of the National Wastewater Surveillance System overseen by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Samples of wastewater are taken twice a week and shipped to a partnering lab in Colorado.

The lab uses unique tests to identify which variants are present and report the concentration of viral remnants in gene copies per liter of wastewater. Remnants are non-viable fragments of virus shed by those infected with COVID-19. In addition to Omicron, sample data indicates that the Delta and Delta Plus variants are still present within all three service areas.

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