“When cases go up, we tighten the faucet a little bit, we shut down people’s opportunities to interact with each other so much,” said New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker after a leading indicator showed another spike in COVID-19 cases.
COVID-19 testing shows an average of eight cases per day per 100,000 people in New Haven. Recent sewage surveillance, which can predict a spike in the virus up to five days in advance by looking at the genetic material we expel, indicates the number is actually closer to 20 per 100,000 people per day.
“The sludge report is a very useful tool to allow us to be able to predict because not everyone is getting tested,” New Haven Health Director Maritza Bond explained.
Bond said the Elm City is at a tipping point.
“It’s definitely a concern,” said Maritza Bond. “We were not in the red, but the sludge report is showing that we are potentially there.”
Being in the red would mean going back to phase one when only essential businesses were able to operate, according to Bond.
Elicker said he spoke with Governor Ned Lamont on Wednesday about putting some of those springtime restrictions back into place.
“People can anticipate that the city is going to be working very aggressively to ensure that we reduce the number of opportunities for people to interact with the goal of keeping people safe,” Elicker said on Wednesday.
Sewage surveillance casts a wider net than traditional nasal swab testing and the results are quicker.
“Increases in RNA concentration tend to very strongly indicate an increase in diagnosed human cases in the subsequent days. It’s a pretty good indicator of what’s going on,” said Dr. Doug Brackney of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.
Brackney does diagnostics for the stateside sewage surveillance program. The science is considered a leading indicator because it goes beyond traditional COVID-19 nasal swab testing by capturing everyone on the public sewer system.
“We are definitely headed in the wrong direction. It’s definitely concerning for sure,” he said.
Scientists have been able to extract the virus’ genetic material from every person who flushes a toilet in the Elm City and the surrounding communities of East Haven, Woodbridge, Hamden, and parts of North Branford . It shows the concentration of COVID-19 RNA in the sludge has increased by more than 20,000 milliliters in the last two weeks.
“This is what an outbreak looks like,” explained Dr. Jordan Peccia, an environmental engineering professor at Yale University.
Peccia leads the team collecting and analyzing this data from New Haven’s wastewater treatment plant, along with several others across Connecticut. He said the increase is happening statewide.
“Now is a really critical time to try and fight this as much as we can to make sure that it doesn’t shoot straight up, that it flattens off,” said Peccia.
New Haven schools are scheduled to transition from virtual learning to hybrid mode on November 9. This increase puts those plans in limbo.
“Given the uptick in cases, it’s given us some sense of concern and we’re having conversations about whether or not to change that,” said Elicker.
Bond said contact tracing shows social gatherings are causing COVID-19 cases to rise, but she also believes there are other contributing factors.
“There’s a lot of individuals still not adhering to the mask use or inconsistently doing it, they’re not wearing it correctly,” Bond added. “I even seen someone wearing the mask on their head recently. So, it’s really critical that we practice the proper social distancing,” she said.
Leaders are pleading to people not to become complacent.
“Wear your mask, social distance and that doesn’t just mean with people you don’t know, that means with people you do know that aren’t outside your very core family bubble,” said Elicker.