Lake County, CA (April 17, 2020) – It has been widely reported testing shortages have hindered the ability of Public Health officials to understand how widespread COVID-19 infection is in California’s communities. As a result, we have sought to gather data in non-healthcare settings, to supplement the insights brought through documented positive tests.
Another way to monitor the presence of the virus in the community has emerged—analyzing sewage at the treatment plant. This is a process that is being done around the country, and when the virus is detected, it correlates with infection in the community.
Lake County Special Districts staff started doing this back in March, and tests at the end of March and on April 1 were all, “non-detect,” meaning the virus was not identified in those samples.
Today, we got some results from April 8 that showed the presence of the virus in untreated sewage at the treatment plants. This confirms suspicions from recent contact investigations that there have been some undetected infections in the county over the last month.
There is no evidence the virus can spread through feces, and workers in our treatment plants are wearing appropriate protection.
The water you drink is all treated, and is not even related to the sewage plants. Again, the detection of COVID-19 in raw sewage does not indicate your water is unsafe to drink.
Sampling from the treatment plants is a valuable tool for us to monitor the presence of the virus in the community. Today’s positive results from the April 8 samples further reinforce the importance of practicing social distancing, good hand-washing and disinfection, and wearing masks when out in public. These precautions will help slow the spread of the infection.
Situational Summary, After One Month of Shelter-in-Place
Now that we have been under shelter-in-place restrictions for a month, taking stock of our current situation will help to give perspective.
The last four weeks have been challenging—school campuses are closed, many businesses have closed, and people are out of work. Most of us are stuck in our homes, most of the time.
Fortunately, the anticipated sharp rise in confirmed infections, hospitalizations, and death that was predicted a month ago (and has been witnessed in New York, New Orleans, and other places) has yet to materialize in our region. The best evidence suggests this “flattening of the curve” has been the result of the social distancing and other precautions people have taken.
Recent evidence, including the raw sewage testing, does suggest it is probable community transmission of the coronavirus has occurred in Lake County.
We hadn’t previously identified it, due to a lack of adequate testing; just over 300 tests have been conducted, so far. We have been working hard on getting more supplies and laboratory access, and the state is promising some changes in the coming weeks.
Since there have been limitations in testing access, many people with mild illness in the community haven’t been able to be tested. However, it is reassuring we have not seen a rise in serious illness or hospitalizations.
Whenever someone tests positive, we investigate the possible source, and also interview them to find out who they have been in contact with during the infectious period. In exploring some recent findings, it seems apparent there have been some mild cases in the community within the last few weeks.
This is not a surprise. In reality, concern regarding probable community spread is the rationale for the shelter-in-place orders and recent masking recommendations.
The goal has always been to slow the spread of the virus through the population, so hospital facilities don’t get overwhelmed, and so we can keep our communities as safe as possible, and particularly those people most at risk of severe complications. Until we are successful in developing a vaccine, or reach “herd immunity,” with a large number of people getting and recovering from the infection, appropriate precautions will need to be taken.
For Lake County-specific Coronavirus information, please continue to visit the Lake County Health Services Department’s website, http://health.co.lake.ca.us. The Lake County Coronavirus Response Hub has additional valuable resources: https://lake-co-ca-coronavirus-response-lakecoca.hub.arcgis.com/
If you still have questions, send an email request: [email protected].
You can also call during business hours: 707-263-8174
Thank you for respecting and protecting your neighbors, and continuing to:
Stay Informed. Stay Safe. Stay HOME.
Gary Pace MD, MPH