NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — A recent study, funded in part by New York City, showed evidence of four additional COVID-19 variants in the city’s wastewater.
A team of researchers from two CUNY schools, the New School and the University of Missouri collected samples of sewage from 14 wastewater plants across the five boroughs as part of their study, which was published Thursday.
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They concluded that there are four new mutations which have scarcely been found in regular testing and seem to be resistant to antibodies – something that could reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.
Dr. Kartik Chandran, an environmental engineering professor at Columbia University, has been studying COVID-19 in sewage in Bergen County, New Jersey since the beginning of the pandemic and says he is not shocked by the evidence of new strains.
“It’s not a surprise at all that we are continuing to find the emergence of variants in new human populations,” Chandran said.
He notes that COVID-19 in sewage has been a precursor of surges in the past.
“Wastewater-based surveillance is especially effective, especially informative when only a small portion of the population is going to be tested,” Dr. Chandra explained.
The researchers believe the COVID-19 mutations found in the sewage may also be affecting animals now, as DNA from dogs and rats were also found. Though animal-to-human transmission of COVID-19 is rare, it has been seen in the United States before.
TheCity.NYC reports the team of virologists and microbiologists have been collecting samples from the sewage plants since June 2020. However, the team only started looking for COVID mutations in January 2021.
The origin of the four mutations remains unknown, though researchers hypothesize the samples sequenced could have come from asymptomatic carriers, those who were vaccinated and contracted the virus, pediatric patients or chronically infected patients.
All the data is preliminary, and the study has not yet been peer reviewed. New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is reviewing the team’s findings.