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WUPHD warns that signs point to more COVID-19 in the community

The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department says that it is doing routine wastewater testing in communities across its district to detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that leads to COVID-19. From Bessemer to Copper Harbor, the virus is being found more frequently in feces sampled in those communities.

Chief Health Officer Kate Beer says the process is important, because it can play a predictive role in guessing when the next surge will come. SARS-CoV-2 can be shed by people through their waste for weeks before they begin to show symptoms, although the lead time regarding the Delta mutation is shorter than previous variants. Another reason to conduct the testing is to try and gauge the level of asymptomatic individuals. They are still infected and potentially can pass the disease on to others, even though they are not sick from it themselves.

The full press release is below.

As part of a continued statewide effort to help slow the spread of COVID-19, the Western Upper Peninsula has partnered with local wastewater monitoring systems to test wastewater samples for the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in human feces. Recent routine testing has shown an increasing trend in detection of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the following communities: Baraga, Bessemer, Chassell, Copper Harbor, Hancock, Houghton, Ironwood, L’Anse, South
Range, Wakefield, and Watersmeet. This upward trend is an early indicator that COVID-19 cases in the community are increasing.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, can be detected in wastewater before an increase in positive clinical tests is seen in a community. The virus can be shed in human feces for weeks, including before a person becomes ill, while a person is ill, and in people who are not ill but are infected.
Since COVID-19 wastewater surveillance is still a new and evolving field of study, it is more appropriate to monitor and observe the trends of SARS-CoV-2 detected in wastewater, instead of focusing on the individual data points. The rising levels of virus in the community wastewater indicates positive cases in the community may soon be on the rise. To view wastewater monitoring data, visit the Michigan COVID-19 Wastewater Testing Dashboard.
The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department is utilizing this new information, along with clinical case data, to make better informed decisions regarding the COVID-19 pandemic response. Based on this data, the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department is increasing public health communication in affected communities, alerting healthcare providers and congregate living facilities to prepare for a potential increase in cases, and increasing testing and vaccination efforts in the affected areas to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the community.
It is important that residents get their COVID-19 vaccine and continue using other preventive measures, such as frequent handwashing, social distancing, and wearing face masks in public settings, to help prevent transmission of the virus in our community. If you are sick, stay home. If your kids are sick, do not send them to school. If you are exposed to a person who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, and you are not vaccinated, you need to stay home and quarantine
for 10 days. Due to the sheer number of positive cases in the community, the Western Upper Peninsula Health department does not have the capacity to contact all positive individuals. If you test positive for COVID-19, it is your responsibility to notify your close contacts that they have been exposed and need to quarantine.
Note: Due to grant budget and laboratory capacity, surveillance is not conducted in all communities in the Western Upper Peninsula. The sheer number of communities with trending increases and spikes in the level of SARS-CoV-2 in the wastewater is concerning and indicates widespread community transmission.

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