Officials say the level of variant virus found were low – with each version making up about 2 percent of the viruses sequenced.
BOISE, Idaho — Testing of wastewater from several Ada County cities has identified the presence of two variants of the virus that causes COVID-19, officials announced Wednesday.
Idaho health officials have been warning that the variants, first discovered in California and the United Kingdom, would likely be in the Gem State soon, if they were not already.
The wastewater samples were submitted from Boise, Eagle, and Garden City.
Officials say the level of variant virus found was low – with each version making up about 2 percent of the viruses sequenced.
Idaho has not yet detected the presence of either variant in any individual who has tested positive for COVID-19. Scientists say the variant virus may spread more quickly or be more contagious than the original strain, but it is not yet clear whether the variants will mean more serious illness or increased chance of death in those who catch them.
“While we haven’t detected the B.1.1.7 (U.K.) or the CAL.20C variants in clinical samples yet, we have presumed the variants were circulating in Idaho. We are grateful to the City of Boise for doing this important work. The Idaho Bureau of Laboratories is on track to sequence SARS-CoV-2 samples in-house by the end of the month, which will both speed up the time to results and expand the number of samples in our strain sequencing program. In the interim, we continue to work with clinical labs around the state to receive samples for sequencing. Several partners including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regional universities, and commercial reference labs are sequencing Idaho samples. To date, 239 Idaho SARS-CoV-2 sequencing samples have been characterized in public databases. We look forward to having more robust and local sequencing capabilities in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Christopher Ball, Bureau Chief for the Idaho Bureau of Laboratories.
Boise has been using wastewater testing since May 2020 to monitor the spread of the virus. This type of testng measures the quantity of SARS-COV-2 in wastewater, but cannot tell researchers how many people are currently infected with COVID-19. No personal data is collected in the testing, officials said.
The two variants were detected in samples submitted on Jan. 25 and Jan. 30, when case counts in Ada County were higher. As cases drop, wastewater sequencing becomes more difficult.
“I’m grateful we have a wastewater testing program, and that it could tell us that these variants are indeed in Boise so that we are reminded, again, that we aren’t out of the woods yet,” said City of Boise Mayor Lauren McLean. “We’ll get through this, and our community will recover, if we remain vigilant in maintaining our distance, wearing masks, and following other health protocols.”
At KTVB, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: www.ktvb.com/coronavirus.
Facts not fear: More on coronavirus
See our latest updates in our YouTube playlist: