Clemson wastewater shows elevated levels of Covid-19, U.K. variant, professor says

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GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA)- The Centers for Disease Control director said Wednesday the Covid-19 variant first identified in the United Kingdom is now the dominant strain in the United States, and a Clemson University professor told 7News an analysis of the virus found in wastewater shows it’s the dominant strain in the Clemson area, too.

Data from DHEC and the CDC dosen’t suggest the U.K. variant is dominating in South Carolina, but it’s something DHEC is monitoring.

Clemson professor and chair of the university’s department of environmental engineering and earth sciences department Dr. David Freedman has been monitoring the Covid-19 virus found in Clemson wastewater for nearly a year. He said it indicates how widespread the virus is in a community. Over the past three weeks, he said the U.K. variant went from being barely detectable to dominating.

“The most recent sample we had it’s essentially 100 percent,” he said.

THe U.K. variant appears to be more contagious than the original form of the virus, according to the CDC.

Dr. Freedman said wastewater shows the virus also appears to have become more widespread in the Clemson area in March.

According to the CDC, the U.K. variant accounts for about nine percent of Covid-19 cases in South Carolina. It’s higher in a few other states, including Florida, where one in three cases are caused by the variant, according to CDC data.

“Our story is a microcosm of what’s happening globally with the spread of this variant,” Dr. Freedman said.

DHEC officials continue to monitor variants and are hoping the state’s plateaued cases will decrease.

“These variants nationally, as well as in South Carolina, are why we encourage everyone to get vaccinated as quickly as possible,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, who is the interim public health director at DHEC.

“This variant is putting us in a race between the spread of the disease and the rate of vaccination,” said Dr. Freedman.

Experts warn that even though vaccines are bringing us closer to the end of the pandemic, social distancing and masking is still important.

Dr. Freedman likens it to running a marathon.

“You’re at mile 22, the last thing you do is stop,” He said. “You got four miles left. Finish it off…and that’s what we are facing now.”

He said cases of a variant from South Africa have not been detectable in Clemson’s wastewater.

Data shows the vaccines available in the U.S. should provide adequate protection against variants.

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