Throughout the pandemic, researchers have been monitoring wastewater to detect levels of coronavirus. Lately, those efforts have yielded a startling find: “cryptic lineages” of the virus. These viral fragments, found in New York City sewers and elsewhere, are “cryptic” because they have “a unique constellation of mutations that had never been reported before in human patients — a potential sign of a new, previously undetected variant,” reported Emily Anthes in a New York Times article published online February 3. Researchers at UC Berkeley “have found similar sequences in one California sewershed.”
It was only the second time sewershed had appeared in the Times. (There’s a Twitter bot that keeps track of such things.) The first time was on January 19, 2022, in a story about wastewater surveillance in several U.S. states, including Missouri. The story quoted Jessica Gilmore, director of the pharmacy department at Hannibal Regional Hospital: “We don’t have the capability to do gene sequencing in real time to know which variants are prevalent. … So the best we have is the sewershed data to help us guide our decision making.”
Sewershed provoked some head-scratching.