New York City, NY

Researchers find signs of other COVID-19 variants in New York City sewage system

Tara Blair Ball

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A gathering of analysts charged by New York City with scouring human sewage for indications of COVID-19 — and its many transforming variations — made a surprising discovery in April.

Following months of testing and re-testing, they discovered four variants of COVID-19 that, when contrasted with a worldwide database of more than 2.5 million sequenced variations, had not been seen previously. The four variations seem to be antibody-resistant, which could lessen the efficacy of the vaccines, the specialists found.

The group of virologists and microbiologists from CUNY's Queens and Queensborough universities, the New School and the University of Missouri have been considering sewage from the city's 14 wastewater treatment plants since June 2020, gathering test samples in plastic jugs one time per week and investigating them to see centralizations of the infection. Since January, the analysts have gone above and beyond, examining the sewage for various COVID-19 variations.

This data is in its early stages and has not been formerly published. Some external specialists say it's extremely early to raise alerts. In any case, there's one alarming part of these discoveries.

COVID-19 could be infecting dogs and rodents, prompting even more mutations and outbreaks in New York City's sewers. While creature to-human transmission of the infection is uncommon, it has been found in the U.S. in minks.

When the scientists presented their findings to New York City public officials, they didn't receive much of a response.

Dr. Marc Johnson, a virologist at the University of Missouri, wrote, “The city officials basically told us if we wanted to do any kind of surveillance of the rats we would have to do it ourselves. They had zero willingness to help explore this potential public health risk.”

THE CITY reported that, "New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene officials said they had reviewed the team’s findings, which they called 'preliminary,' and were working to determine the origin of the mutations."

Patrick Gallahue, a Department of Health spokesperson, said, “There are various possible explanations for the mutations identified and we will discuss theories with scientific and government partners. One thing we do know from clinical testing and surveillance is that COVID-19 is circulating in NYC and the best way for New Yorkers to protect themselves and others is to get vaccinated.”

Since animal-to-human transmission of COVID-19 is possible, the possible infection of dogs and rats, which are already a problem in New York City, could be seriously troubling. While this research is preliminary, hopefully they will be able to discover how these mutations are forming and what can be done to continue to protect New Yorkers if these strains do prove to be antibody-resistant.

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