COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – At home tests became an imperative tool during the Omicron variant surge, but now health officials like Executive Director of Piedmont’s COVID-19 task force Dr. Jayne Morgan are saying they’re disrupting their ability to accurately track case numbers in our community.

“That inherently is one of the issues and one of the case numbers that we report are certainly under-reported by 5 to 10 fold,” said Dr. Morgan. 

This means communities all over the country are turning to new ways to monitor COVID-19 surges like using wastewater surveillance. 

Something Georgia has already implemented and something the Alabama Department of Public Health says it’s looking into.

“We are currently exploring grant opportunities for us to put into place wastewater testing as part of a surveillance program like they have in other states,” said Dr. Stubblefield.

So what is wastewater surveillance? Dr. Morgan explained our bodies shed the virus in our waste which can then be identified through testing making it an important tool in preventing another surge.

“It gives us a two to three day head start that the virus is now being shed from bodies into our sewer water,” said Dr. Morgan. “And we now need to be on the lookout and make preparations ahead of that.”

However, this may not be the only solution needed.

Dr. Morgan says since the country relaxed COVID-19 restrictions and pushed for a return to normalcy wastewater surveillance has decreased in the state of Georgia and around the country making it harder to monitor.

“This information now has become a bit spotier and a bit more difficult to both obtain and interpret,” said Morgan.

Dr. Morgan is hopeful the surveillance will return to normal in the Peach State especially with COVID cases on the rise.

Case numbers in Georgia have increased 132% in the past week and in Alabama Dr. Stubblefield says they’re seeing an increase as well.

“All that to say is we are seeing some slight increases we are watching very closely we haven’t met any sort of thresholds like they have in the North East,” said Dr. Stubblefield. “And overall we have usually 70 people statewide that are hospitalized with COVID-19.” 

Their case numbers have increased from a daily average of 100 cases to just over 300 cases per day in the last week.

Dr. Morgan also says it’s important to note the wastewater surveillance system will not help identify new variants but does monitor for new surges.