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Researcher: Delta variant ‘spreading through Missouri at a remarkable pace,’ sewage study shows


Experts say the delta variant is spreading fast throughout Missouri and is expected to "explode" in Fulton, Columbia and Jefferson City in the next week.

According to The Sewershed Surveillance Project, a COVID-19 tracking study overseen by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, the viral load in Fulton, Columbia and Jefferson cities increased by 40% or more within the last week, or 25% or more for the last two weeks.

In February 2021, the sewage testing surveillance team began conducting variant testing of samples from sewer systems around Missouri. Samples with sufficient SARS-CoV-2 genetic material are tested and analyzed for combinations of genetic mutations found in variants.

The sewage testing suggests the presence of the variants across the state, which is used to help target variant follow-up in communities.

Marc Johnson, professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, is one of the scientists leading the wastewater testing effort at MU.

Johnson said there are many advantages to sewage monitoring. Johnson said it is faster and more effective than testing individual patients.

"First of all it's pretty fast, we can get a readout and tell you what's going on in a whole community," Johnson said. "It's faster than getting a readout from patients, when you get a readout from a patient you only know about what viruses are infecting that one patient. With the sewage testing, we can give you a pretty quick readout on an entire community."

Johnson said people shed coronavirus RNA before they have symptoms, which is why they test sewage water. He said people can still have the virus RNA after they have recovered, which is why researchers test from week to week and focus on whether the data shows the cases are rising or falling.

Johnson said the delta variant was first seen in Branson, Missouri, on May 10. A week later the variant had spread to southwest Missouri communities like Brookfield and Licking.

By June 7, Johnson said the delta variant could be found in Columbia and almost every other city/community in Missouri.

Johnson said the worry about the delta variant stems from it being highly contagious and spreading at a concerning rate, faster than other variants. Johnson said the UK variant does not spread anywhere near the same rate as the delta variant.

"We've seen the delta variant spread through the state at a remarkable pace," Johnson said.

Johnson said as soon as the variant enters a community, that location tends to see a large spike in cases in the weeks following.

Johnson urges people to get vaccinated, saying all the vaccines protect against the delta variant. Johnson said while it is still possible to contract COVID-19 with the vaccine, there is very little chance of death or severe illness.

Columbia / Fulton / Jefferson City / Local News / Missouri / News / Top Stories / University of Missouri / Video
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Leila Mitchell

Leila is a Penn State graduate who started with KMIZ in March 2021. She studied journalism and criminal justice in college.



  1. “We’ve seen the delta variant spread through the state at a remarkable pace,” And yet no correlating increase in deaths. Which means COVID is evolving exactly as viruses usually do. To a more contagious but less dangerous form. The most successful parasite spreads easily, and does not kill its host, aka transmission vector. The “officials” and “experts” have been screeching about THE CASES THE CASES THE CASES ever since deaths started falling in the spring.

    1. I thinking the country will go back to lockdown and stay locked down till everyone in the country as others gets vaccinated at a 100% .
      I completely agree on the lockdown cause no one is taking this Delta Variant seriously.
      Missouri and other states needs to shut down travels to and from other states and countries cause this is the way it spreads.
      We need to act on this and be serious about it cause it’s spreading badly in Missouri and other states.
      Our country is at risk and we need to close down our state and country.
      We are all at risk as our kids.
      Missouri needs to lockdown again till everyone is vaccinated and make it mandatory to get it done.
      That goes for the whole country and others.

  2. I don’t know why Missouri or anywhere hasn’t went into another lockdown cause this virus 🦠 is spreading so fast here and reason it’s spreading is because of travel and movement. We need to shut down travels to other countries and states. We shut down our country for the first COVID-19 and we should be thinking about doing this again for this highly contagious virus. I know people who have had the vaccines and still got the COVID even after the shots.
    This should be a good reason Missouri should go back to a shut down again cause less traveling to and from countries and other states cause that’s how it gets from place to place. We need to shut down the and doors and have so many people in stores at a time. We need to be a lot more serious than ever on this in Missouri cause this is spreading like wild fires and we’re just acting as if the vaccines are the best defense and the reality of it is as I have mentioned on a friend of mine who had the shots ended up with the COVID-19 Variant.
    Wake up America cause we’re not all safe from this and we need be very serious about this. Sadly to say this but the country needs to act very very serious and close borders like others have like China and Australia and more to shut down.
    I’m sorry but as an American as a Missourian. We must shut down and stop thinking that the shots are the way and it’s not.

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