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LAWRENCE, Kan. — Through the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors have been using wastewater as a way to predict coronavirus spikes. Doctors are raising concern after seeing data for one city in Kansas.

Health experts believe wastewater is a leading indicator in how COVID-19 is going to develop in a community. Sewage from infected people is how it happens. If there’s a high rate, they expect a surge in cases to follow.

In Lawrence, the rate of COVID-19 found in their wastewater is the highest it’s ever been since the pandemic started.

“And that should concern, right?” University of Kansas Health System Dr. Steve Stites said. “Because we know that the wastewater historically has predicted the rise in case counts.”

“It’s interesting because our cases are not the highest that they’ve ever been in the pandemic,” Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department Director of Informatics Sonia Jordan said.

Jordan said last year at this time was actually their highest case count, at 82 new cases a day.

Right now, their 14-day rolling average is 21.

“It tells us potentially people are not testing, or maybe they’re just having mild cases because they’re vaccinated so they don’t feel like they actually have COVID, it could be that people are using an at home test.

The vaccination rate among adults in Lawrence is at 71%.

In Johnson County, 66% are fully vaccinated and 50% of the population in Jackson County, Missouri.

Despite those numbers and experiencing a small dip in new COVID-19 cases, positive results are back on the rise in our region.

After seeing the spike of COVID-19 in wastewater and the holiday ahead, Stites expressed concern.

“When you start taking masks off and you go indoors, people are going to get sick again,” Stites said. “And we’re going to see that increasing rise of COVID-19 numbers.”

Doctors continue to encourage everyone who is able to get vaccinated and take necessary safety precautions during the holidays.