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Missouri lab detected Delta COVID-19 variant in wastewater weeks before first case was reported

A University of Missouri professor who is leading a study of infectious-disease in wastewater said his lab detected the Delta variant weeks before the first case was reported. The state is currently seeing a surge due to the Delta variant and has just under 50% of its adult population fully vaccinated. 

“We detected it in the first wastewater facility on May 10, a week later we saw it in four different wastewater treatment facilities and by the third week it was everywhere,” Marc Johnson, study lead, told Fox 2 Now. “It was across the state, all different parts.”  

Wastewater surveillance has been used to pinpoint potential COVID-19 clusters in colleges, cities and communities. Johnson said the Bond Life Science Center is the only facility in the state testing wastewater samples, according to the report. He told Fox 2 Now that the lab receives around nine gallons of wastewater weekly. 

“We get the data and usually within a matter of hours forward that data to the Department of Health and Senior Services and within the next day they upload that information to all the county health departments,” Johnson told the news outlet. 

He warned that there will likely be more variants to emerge.


The state is currently grappling with highs not previously seen since pandemic peaks, with some hospitals warning that they are in danger of being overrun due to recent surges. 

On Tuesday, Gov. Mike Parson said health officials should encourage people to get the vaccine and should not be “trying to force people to take a vaccine or literally just scare them into taking a vaccine because we know that doesn’t work.” 

He also suggested the hospitals were sending the wrong message. 


“We just need to make sure that people are not scared thinking they’re doing something wrong going to a hospital,” Parson said. “And I think the message you’re seeing out of southwest Missouri is more people just trying to blame somebody for this virus. The virus itself is to blame.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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