COVID-19 virus in Palm Springs’ wastewater surged more than 700% in November, report says

By Mark Olalde | Desert Sun

The amount of COVID-19 virus measured in the Palm Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant increased by more than 700% throughout November, according to new data published by the city. And samples collected this week suggest that about 5,800 people in Palm Springs could currently be infected with the virus.

According to Riverside County, Palm Springs has had 1,626 coronavirus cases confirmed via diagnostic tests since the start of the pandemic and 67 deaths. The city has about 48,000 people.

The company that does the wastewater testing for Palm Springs estimated that the viral load in its sewage over the 24 hours from 9 a.m. Dec. 7 to 9 a.m. on Dec. 8 meant there could be as few as 3,093 cases or as many as 13,720, although it said testing via wastewater “is not yet an exact science.”

The data, however, highlighted how other, more traditional testing measures will miss cases. It remains unclear exactly how sensitive wastewater testing is to people who may no longer be contagious. 

Riverside County data do show that cases have been surging in Palm Springs. From Dec. 1 to Dec. 7, 73 cases were reported via diagnostic tests. From Tuesday through Thursday, 167 cases were confirmed. County data indicate there may be about 455 active cases in Palm Springs currently. 

The wastewater testing suggests the virus is more widespread.

Information about the amount of COVID-19 found in Palm Springs wastewater presented at the Dec. 10, 2020, city council meeting.

“Recent testing at the Palm Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant supports community guidance to take the state’s regional shelter-in-place order seriously to slow the spread of the virus,” according to documents shared by Mayor Geoff Kors prior to the presentation at Thursday night’s city council meeting.

The report included a comparison to Burlington, Vt., which has about the same population and saw the amount of COVID-19 found in its wastewater also rise substantially in November. Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority is similarly testing for COVID-19 around the Boston metro area, and its growth of observed viral particles in wastewater had a similar trendline to the rise in cases detected via other methods.


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