Altamonte Springs developing test to detect COVID omicron variant in wastewater

Results expected in the next week

ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, Fla. – Altamonte Springs city leaders said they are in the process of developing a test to detect omicron in sewage, which will help provide a better idea if the new variant is in our community.

“We will be taking samples either today or Monday and testing for the presence of the omicron variant,” said city manager Frank Martz. “In the next week we will know whether or not we have omicron in our sewage.”

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Martz said the city’s molecular lab is developing a test that will detect the new variant in wastewater. The city’s treatment plant covers parts of northern Orange County as well as parts of Seminole County.

Martz said testing sewage will give leaders a better idea of how COVID is spreading in our community.

“It’s important to be able to share that with hospital administrators and those people who are trying to do health policy for large areas,” Martz said. “We can tell them exactly what’s in our sewage and that knowledge makes us all safer.”

There are still many unknowns about the new strain. USF Health professor and virologist Dr. Michael Teng said omicron has more mutations compared to alpha and delta variants.

“So that’s why there’s some concern because some of those mutations have been shown in lab tests to decrease the ability of our antibodies to recognize the virus,” Teng said.

Teng said it’s also unclear if omicron causes more severe illness or if it’s more transmissible than other variants, including the dominating delta strain.

“The concern is if it can outcompete delta because of this immune evasion, then we’re going to have to increase the rate of vaccinations, maybe even make an omicron specific booster, but again early days,” Teng said.

Teng said it does appear some monoclonal antibody treatments aren’t as effective against omicron.

He adds scientists hope to have a better understanding of the new variant in the coming weeks as more data from countries with cases is reviewed.

“It’s worth keeping an eye on it,” he said.

About the Author:

Amanda Castro, a proud UCF alum, joined the News 6 team in November 2015 and was promoted to weekend morning anchor in April 2016. Go Knights!