When the coronavirus receded across much of the globe last month and the omicron surge declined, many Americans were hopeful that was perhaps the signal that the United States was entering a new phase of the pandemic.
However, new data indicators, domestically and internationally, suggest that the virus continues to spread.
Although official counts of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations are still declining, new wastewater data updated this week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the United States may be seeing the beginnings of an uptick in COVID-19 infections.
Between Feb. 24 and March 10, 37% of wastewater sites that are monitored by the CDC have seen an increase of 100% or more in the presence of the COVID-19 virus in their wastewater. Approximately 30% of these sites have seen an increase of 1,000% or more.
"It is likely we will see a new rise in cases across the United States as our wastewater data is showing a concerning signal," said Rebecca Weintraub, assistant professor of global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School. "Now is a key moment to communicate why we need to accelerate the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine, remind communities why boosters are needed, secure an ongoing supply of tests and N95 to communities -- especially the red zones."
Throughout the pandemic, wastewater surveillance has been a tool used as a preliminary indicator of COVID-19 trends in the U.S.
Because asymptomatic patients can shed the virus, wastewater surveillance can capture infections that may not have been identified in official counts. In addition, many Americans are taking at-home COVID-19 tests and are not reporting their results to officials, and thus, experts say, infection totals are likely undercounted.
Wastewater data is sparse across the country, but indicators show some sites in the Northeast, including in New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, as well as across Ohio, have seen notable increases in the presence of COVID-19 in local wastewater.
In New York City, some sites saw a 50% increase in the presence of COVID-19 in the city's wastewater.
TUESAY MORNING HEADLINES
New wastewater data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. may be seeing the beginnings of an uptick in COVID-19 infections.
CDC found a 100 percent or higher increase of COVID-19 detections at 37 percent of wastewater sites between Feb. 24 and March 10.
Sites in the northeast have seen the most notable increases.
This comes as the White House warns Congress it will be forced to stop critical COVID-19 response efforts without more funding.
Last month the White House asked for $30 billion to combat future variants of the virus with vaccines, treatments, testing and care for uninsured people. That request was dropped from a spending bill last week.
Without it, the Biden administration said it will have to scale back testing and could soon run out of essential drugs used to treat COVID-19.
MONDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Starting today, masks will be optional in most Cumberland County government facilities for staff and visitors.
Masks will still be required in the Department of Public Health and the Cumberland County Detention Center.
The new guidelines come as case counts fall and counties across the state loosen masking guidelines. Statewide, the percentage of positive tests is less than 3%, however, it is much higher locally in Cumberland County, about 7.1% over the last 14 days.
LAST WEEK UPDATES
As mask mandates are lifted in school districts, local governments, and many state agencies Monday, an infectious disease expert is urging caution and wishing for masking in classrooms for a bit longer.
Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease expert at UNC said COVID case counts dropping and hospitals emptying out of COVID-19 patients are encouraging signs.
"I think there's a sweet spot though," he said. "There's a lot of wishful thinking and I wish I could say that the science doesn't back up masking in schools -- it does back up masking. We know masks work. We know schools that mask have less community spread."
Wohl said waiting even a couple of more weeks before losing masks inside classrooms would be a more measured approach.
"I don't want to do anything that prevents us from getting where we all want to be," he said. "I don't want to take any chances that we're going to see an Omicron Ba.2 bump like they saw in Denmark. That would just slow us down, that would just make us more frustrated and exhausted so let's just keep going. Let's put our pedal to the metal. We're almost there."
As for those who do still chose to wear a mask indoors, Wohl said wearing something is better than nothing when everyone around you is without a mask.
-- ABC11's Andrea Blanford reported.