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Health / WBAA

Wastewater testing could indicate a large COVID spike in Tippecanoe County

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Wastewater testing data shows a COVID virus concentration in Tippecanoe County (Credit: Biobot Analytics)
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Wastewater data in Tippecanoe County indicates a spike in COVID-19 viral concentrations, though it’s still unclear what that increase could mean for case counts and hospitalization.

As the amount of COVID testing has declined, experts have suggested that wastewater may provide valuable information about the level of virus moving through a community.

Tippecanoe County’s wastewater data stands out even among other counties in the state, according to Indiana University Northwest associate economics professor Micah Pollak.

“I’ve been tracking Lake County, Hamilton County, and Tippecanoe,” he said. “I’ve been using that as an approximation of the state levels because those are three counties that are spread out a bit and represent different populations.”

Pollak said the data, which comes from Biobot Analytics, a company tracking wastewater data across the country, showed an alarming trend in Tippecanoe County.

“What really stood out this last day is that in Tippecanoe the wastewater concentrations are skyrocketing. You don’t see that in either Hamilton or Lake,” he said.

According to Pollak, Biobot started tracking data in Tippecanoe County slightly after the peak of the Omicron variant.

“We’re very close to the highest level we’ve seen in the county which were during… maybe right after the omicron peak,” he said.

Tippecanoe County Health Officer Dr. Jeremy Adler said it’s not clear if wastewater is 1 to 1 in terms of predicting a spike in cases. Tippecanoe County has seen an uptick in recent weeks - but hospitalizations remain low for now.

“Hopefully the severity of illness is staying mild and we won’t see an uptick in the number of people requiring hospitalization for COVID,” he said.

But, Adler said, wastewater testing is still an important tool as unreported at-home tests increase and laboratory tests decrease.

“Maybe perhaps in the future this sort of testing might be able to predict a coming surge,” he said.

Earlier this week, Purdue University called on students to “finish strong” after reporting a spike in campus testing positivity rates, although officials noted they are only testing those who are either symptomatic or were knowingly exposed to COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently upgraded the risk of community spread in Tippecanoe County from “low” to “medium.”