Coronavirus Health

Samples taken from wastewater collection sites around Jefferson County could be showing early signs of a drop in overall COVID-19 infection in the area. 

Ted Smith, director at U of L’s Center for Healthy Air, Water and Soil at the school’s Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute, said some of the most recent samples may be showing the start of a decline, although it will take several days to get a clearer picture. 

“There are signs that infection could be receding,” Smith said. “It’s not a done deal, it’s not a slam dunk, but there are certainly signs in the data.”

The samples include the Morris Forman Wastewater Treatment Plant, which serves around 340,000 customers in the most populous parts of northern Jefferson County. 

The U of L team collects samples over a 24-hour period at 17 sites across the Metro area between Sunday and Monday, which shows presence of COVID infections. The samples are sequenced to determine what variants may be present, with results available on Fridays. 

Metropolitan Sewer District also sends samples from the Morris Forman plant to Biobot Analytics near Boston. 

Smith said the U of L team ramped up testing in anticipation of omicron, to determine where it may appear first in the county. He said it’s still the predominant strain seen across the area, although some sites still show the presence of delta. 

Health officials used wastewater sampling to detect omicron in Jefferson County days before clinical tests first showed the variant in mid December. 

The Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness reported 14,244 new COVID cases last week and seven deaths. The incidence rate has dropped to 265.3 new cases per 100,000 residents. 

Aprile Rickert is WFPL's health reporter.