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ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – After discovering small amounts of a COVID variant last month in samples taken from more than a dozen watershed locations across Missouri, state health officials completed a second round of testing on wastewater.

St. Louis area sewersheds

These new tests show the Coldwater Creek area in north St. Louis County to contain a significant amount of the UK variant of COVID-19 compared to other locations tested around the state.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) has partnered with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, University of Missouri – Columbia, wastewater operators, and others to test wastewater to spot trends with the virus. Initial testing revealed low levels of the UK COVID variant in 15 of 23 locations in Missouri.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page addressed the findings during a Wednesday morning COVID briefing. He said we knew the new variant would reach our community since it’s been in other parts of the state and country.

He said the new strain is more transmissible and more likely to make people sick. He is reminding people to continue to practice social distancing and wear masks.

Testing can only be done if there are enough particles of COVID present in the wastewater. DHSS said with COVID cases decreasing in the state, only 10 locations had sufficient levels of COVID-19 virus particles to allow for such a high level of testing.

Of the 10 locations tested, only Coldwater Creek had a detectable level of B.1.1.7 variant (UK COVID variant). Approximately 25.8% of the COVID-19 viral strands in Coldwater Creek were identified as having mutations typically associated with B.1.1.7. The other nine locations had less than 0.1% of the variant present in the wastewater samples.

The state health department says the measurement is not a direct estimate of human cases of COVID caused by the variant in any of those areas. It is an indication that the UK variant is “likely present among population in this sewershed area.”

The Coldwater Creek samples were taken on Feb. 22.

Missouri is one of the first states to use sewage analysis to study the prevalence of the COVID-19 virus as well as existing and emerging variants.

Missouri did report one confirmed case of the UK variant in northeast Missouri on Feb. 6.