By Adrienne Moore

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Traces of the COVID-19 Omicron variant in local waterways is now a reality for Sacramento and Merced.

Scientists confirmed the discovery Monday and gave public health leaders the heads up. But what exactly does this mean?

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Scientists say we are seeing the very beginning of Omicron in the community — and the impact is huge. It’s kind of an early warning system that’s helping public health officials respond before an outbreak.

That information is now coming from a team of scientists who have been monitoring the wastewater for COVID-19 and its variants in 10 cities across northern and central California every day for more than a year.

“Over the past week in Sacramento, we’ve seen three days where we’ve found low concentrations of markers that are specifically associated with Omicron,” said Dr. Marlene Wolfe, assistant professor of environmental health at Emory University.

Dr. Wolfe is part of the research team. She says the samples were found between November 30 and December 4 and the levels were low.

“We feel very confident at this point saying that we’ve seen Omicron in the wastewater,” Dr. Wolfe said. “And that’s the kind of information that will help public health officials know how to target their clinical testing to confirm what we’re seeing and also to understand the impact of that in terms of the disease in the community.”

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Local infectious disease experts call the findings “significant” but warn it’s still too early to tell how widely Omicron is circulating or its severity.

“It’s a call to double down on the things we know that we can do to protect ourselves and the two main things we can do is make sure that we are fully vaccinated, getting boosters if we’re eligible for those, and then wearing masks,” said Dr. Dean A. Blumberg, chief of UC Davis Health Pediatric Infectious Diseases.

So what are scientists focusing on now that Omicron is here? Researchers say they’re looking for trends, specifically where Omicron is increasing over time.

While daily testing will continue in Sacramento, experts remain confident clarity is coming soon.

“It’s hurry up and wait, and we can’t wait to get more data,” Dr. Blumberg said.

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It’s important to note, you can’t catch COVID-19 or the Omicron variant from wastewater. Researchers are only looking at genetic markers that show what people in the community have been infected with, so there is no risk.

Adrienne Moore