Omicron variant detected in Merced, officials push vaccines


MERCED, Calif. (KSEE) – The Omicron COVID-19 variant has been detected in Merced at the end of November according to California scientists.

The detection was through wastewater surveillance that UC Merced does with the hopes of reducing community outbreaks.

“It is not something we should panic about,” said UCSF Fresno Dr. Banh. “But it is something we should be concerned about and have an appropriate response.

UC Merced joined a global wastewater effort to detect COVID-19 by testing wastewater treatment plants, a huge step in community surveillance of the virus.

Assistant Professor Colleen Naughton who works on the project said the samples aren’t contagious and can detect the virus quicker than tests.

“It is not a replacement for clinical testing,” said Naughton. “We still need to be doing that but it is a powerful tool we can use to confirm like if there is an increase or decrease in the spread.”

Whenever a new variant like Omicron is detected, the Health Department is notified and works to reduce the outbreak through pop-up testing and clinics in the area.

The good news is that early studies from Pfizer show that booster shots do protect against Omicron.

The problem is around 50% of Central Valley residents have been vaccinated and even less have a booster shot. Banh said most of the vaccine hesitancy is due to misinformation.

“I don’t want people to be scared into getting boosters and vaccines,” said Banh. “But thinking about it as really thoughtfully doing the right thing for my own health and public health.”

The UCSF site across from Fashion Fair Mall is open for walk-ups every day.

Wastewater links:

  1. COVIDPoops19 global dashboard of wastewater monitoring locations:
  2. @COVIDPoops19 Twitter account:
  3. CDC National Wastewater Surveillance System website:
  4. Biobot Analytics, a company that monitors wastewater in many locations in the U.S. and posts their data:
  5. Water Environment Foundation has a U.S. dashboard of locations too:
  6. SCAN (Sewer Coronavirus Alert Network) dashboard with wastewater data and trends including Merced: 

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