• Florida's Orange County detected "very high" levels of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater
  • The trends provide an "advanced warning" for cases in the coming days
  • The virus' fragments in the wastewater are "non-viable" and "non-contagious"

"Very Concerning" levels of the COVID-19 virus have been detected in the wastewater of Florida's Orange County. This suggests a further increase in cases and hospitalizations in the area.

During a briefing held Monday, Orange County officials announced the detection of high concentrations of the SARS-CoV-2 RNA, the virus that causes COVID-19, in the county's wastewater.

Ed Torres, director for Orange County Utilities, noted that the latest results in the eastern service area showed a 674% increase in the concentration of viral RNA last week compared to mid-May when the virus was thought to have been contained.

The South Water Reclamation Facility also saw a 740% increase in concentration on Aug. 12 in a 14-week timeframe while the Northwest Water Reclamation Facility saw a 559% growth on Aug. 12 in an 11-week timeframe.

Calling the numbers "very high" and "very concerning," Torres further added that they have been seeing a sharp increase in the presence of the virus' Delta variant.

Orange County is among the dozens that are involved in wastewater surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The effort allows authorities to catch a glimpse of what's to come in the coming days or weeks.

"The concentrations tested reflect both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections, alerting to spikes in infections four to ten days before positive case numbers would be available," Orange County Government noted.

"The hospitals and medical providers are seeing only the symptomatic patients," Torres said. "What we measure in the wastewater are fragments of the virus that are non-contagious, nonviable, but that provides us with an advanced warning."

According to Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, these numbers are important as they help coordinate the efforts and inform residents and businesses in the area to take the necessary precautions.

"So what we try to then do is ensure that any messaging to respective communities can be a focus in a particular area," Demings said.

As of Sunday, Orange County logged a total of 188,724 positive cases and 1,452 deaths. Its CDC level of community transmission is also considered "high."

"Although the results fluctuate, the concentrations of the virus RNA that we're seeing and that we measured show an overall increasing trend in our service areas," Torres said. "Again, the results of the virus RNA that we measure in wastewater indicate that we will see continued clinical cases and hospitalizations this week, even beyond what was reported this weekend."

An electron microscopic image  that shows SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19
An electron microscopic image that shows SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 National Institutes of Health / Handout