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Viral COVID load in San Diego wastewater sharply increasing

Data from the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant shows a sharp increase in the amount of COVID-19 found in San Diegans' sewage.

A spike in cases is expected to follow, said Dr. William Tseng, assistant chief of staff at Kaiser Permanente San Diego.

"What that tells us is that in the next two to four weeks, we’re going to be dealing with more cases of COVID — no doubt about that," he said.

Wastewater has proven to be an early indicator of when COVID-19 cases will rise. This summer surge has a larger viral load than last summer, and this summer, infections are being driven by the highly contagious BA.5 sub-variant.

"It is a very concerning sign that cases are out there and they’re going to grow," Tseng said. "We really never know that we’re over the peak until we’re on the other side, so it’s hard to predict, but we’re not on the other side yet."

Some local hospitals have recently reported seeing milder illnesses. Tseng said during this wave, fewer patients are being admitted to the intensive care unit.

"It’s hard to say that a specific variant is much less severe because it can still kill and we still see it," Tseng said. "And if you look at the data, who is it killing? The people who are unvaccinated, the people immunosuppressed and really those over 75."

COVID-19 related hospitalizations have been also been increasing. That combined with higher case counts put San Diego County in the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) high risk tier. Tseng expects the upticks to continue. He recommends people mask up and get boosters.

"If you have not gotten your third dose of vaccine, you have got to get it because that makes a huge difference from ending up in the hospital and dying or getting a sore throat," he said.

Tseng said special care should be given if visiting older family or friends.

"Don’t give them COVID," he said. "You may survive it, but they may not."

San Diego Unified School District and local military bases recently announced a return to indoor masking. Tseng said everyone should be taking precautions during these increases.

"Take care of each other," Tseng said. "When you go to an indoor event, wear a mask. You don't know if you may have COVID or other people there may be susceptible. If you wear your mask indoors, you really prevent spreading this, so be part of the solution not the problem."

In the CDC's high risk tier, officials recommend everyone wear masks indoors.