Sewage samples signal possible increase in US COVID cases in some places, even though overall cases are falling

A jump in coronavirus rates measured at wastewater sampling sites monitored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be signaling a coming increase in COVID-19 cases in parts of the US, even though overall cases are still declining.

The agency uses wastewater surveillance to capture the presence of COVID-19 shed by people with or without symptoms, allowing it to act as an early warning that the illness is spreading in a community.

A Bloomberg analysis of the data found that the number of sites with rising signals of cases is almost twice what it was during the period from Feb. 1 to Feb. 10, when the omicron surge was falling fast.

The news comes as US COVID numbers continue to decline, with the nation now averaging 33,310 new cases a day, according to a New York Times tracker, down 47% from two weeks ago.

The average daily number of hospitalizations stands at 27,901, down 43% from two weeks ago. Deaths are averaging 1,170 a day, down 33% from two weeks ago, but still an undesirably high number.

US states have moved to drop restrictions amid hopes the country is entering an endemic phase, meaning the virus is still present but no longer causing the kind of surges that can overwhelm health care systems.

See now: The shift to work-at-home is so pronounced that New York properties near rail stations now trade at a discount

But the World Health Organization and others have cautioned that the pandemic is not yet over, and will not end until all of the world has reached a certain vaccine rate. For now, major parts of Africa have low vaccine rates and cases are just arriving in the Pacific.

China, where the virus was first detected in late 2019, is struggling to contain a wave of cases that has shut down Shenzhen, a tech and finance hub adjacent to Hong Kong in the south, and Changchun, an auto center in the northeast, the Associated Press reported. Bus service to Shanghai, China’s business capital and biggest city, has been suspended.

The number of new cases reported Tuesday on the Chinese mainland more than doubled to 3,507. Almost three-quarters were in Jilin province, where Changchun is located, with 2,601 cases.

Hong Kong, which reports separately, had 26,908 cases on Monday.

Special report: Two years of COVID-19: How the pandemic changed the way we shop, work, invest and get medical care

The WHO is also tracking a new hybrid variant that has been unofficially named deltacron, as it combines characteristics of delta and omicron.

But for now, little is known about whether it is either more transmissible or more lethal than earlier variants and further study will be needed, the WHO has said.

See now: Fully vaccinated will need fourth dose later this year, and new variant dubbed ‘deltacron’ detected in Europe

What is an endemic and how will we know when Covid-19 becomes one? WSJ’s Daniela Hernandez breaks down how public-health experts assess when a virus like Covid-19 enters an endemic stage. Photo: Michael Nagle / Zuma Press

Other COVID-19 news you should know about:

• The UK is dropping all remaining COVID travel restrictions on Friday, even though cases have started to climb again, the Guardian reported. Passengers will no longer be required to fill out locator forms or get tested and quarantine hotels, which have not been used since December, will be fully stood down by month end. Heathrow announced that air passengers traveling through the airport will no longer be required to wear a mask from Wednesday. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic said they were also preparing to drop the requirement onboard, when flying to destinations that do not require face coverings on planes.

• The NBA fined the Brooklyn Nets $ 50,000 for allowing guard Kyrie Irving to enter the team’s home locker room during Sunday’s game against the Knicks, the New York Times reported. Irving has not been vaccinated against COVID and was not allowed to be with the team.

New studies offer clues about who may be more susceptible to long Covid, a term for lingering Covid-19 symptoms. WSJ breaks down the science of long Covid and the state of treatment. Illustration: Jacob Reynolds for the Wall Street Journal

• AbbVie
ABBV,
+ 0.89%

is partnering with Scripps Research to develop new COVID-19 antivirals. “Our SARS-CoV-2 research program has the potential to significantly impact the ongoing gaps in patient needs to move from pandemic to endemic COVID-19,” Peter Schultz, president and CEO of Scripps Research, said in a news release. There are currently two authorized antivirals; Pfizer’s
PFE,
-0.72%

Paxlovid and Merck’s
MRK,
+ 1.27%

molnupiravir.

• The CDC has changed travel warnings for nine vacation destinations in the Caribbean and Atlantic to Level 3 from Level 4, or very high to high, clearing them for Americans to visit again, the Washington Post reported. The list comprises Cuba, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Maarten, the British Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic and the Turks and Caicos. The agency also lowered its cruise travel rating to Level 2, which means the risk is now deemed “moderate.”

Here’s what the numbers say

The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 460 million on Tuesday, while the death toll rose above 6.04 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The US leads the world with 79.6 million cases and 965,149 fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 216.7 million people living in the US are fully vaccinated, equal to 65.3% of the population. But just 96 million are boosted, equal to 44.3% of the vaccinated population.

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