New COVID-19 variant in NY wastewater cannot be traced

A new study looked into a seemingly new and possibly harmless coronavirus variant that was found in New York wastewater.

A MAN plays with a soccer ball in a field at Central Park on spring equinox, in the Manhattan borough of New York City, last week. (photo credit: CAITLIN OCHS/REUTERS)
A MAN plays with a soccer ball in a field at Central Park on spring equinox, in the Manhattan borough of New York City, last week.
(photo credit: CAITLIN OCHS/REUTERS)

A new, previously undetected variant of the novel coronavirus was found this time last year in New York's sewage waters by researchers at Queens College.

The researchers, who published their peer-reviewed study in Nature on Thursday, have not been able to track the origin of what they call the "cryptic lineages."

It is unclear why these lineages cannot be tracked. On the one hand, it is possible that they cannot be detected by normal coronavirus tests. On the other hand, they may not be coming from human waste at all, which is what was at first assumed, but rather from the waste of animals, potentially the rats infesting New York City.

The study examined wastewater samples since 2020, focusing on the coronavirus spike protein since the beginning of 2021.

The lineages, according to the New York Times, are most probably not coming from people whose infections have gone undetected by normal coronavirus tests, since they keep appearing in the same wastewater plants. If it were an undetectable strain, it would be distributed more broadly throughout the city.

 People line up at a COVID-19 testing site in Times Square during the coronavirus disease pandemic in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, US, December 17, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/CARLO ALLEGRI/FILE PHOTO) People line up at a COVID-19 testing site in Times Square during the coronavirus disease pandemic in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, US, December 17, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/CARLO ALLEGRI/FILE PHOTO)

Nevertheless, the sequence has not come up in a single standard coronavirus examination, which brings up the latter option of the lineage coming from animals.

“This is a very promiscuous virus,” Dr. Marc Johnson, a virologist at the University of Missouri, told the NYT. “It can infect all kinds of species.”

It does not seem that these lineages pose any extra risk to humans.