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N.J.’s COVID cases are woefully undercounted. Sewage may be its last early warning system.

Apr 27, 2022

Kartik Chandran doesn’t have a crystal ball inside his lab at Columbia University.


But the engineering professor has accurately predicted the latest COVID-19 infection trends in New Jersey’s most populated region — and almost a month before they unfolded.


“The way science works, seeing the presence of COVID-19 in our data two to three weeks before the positive case (numbers) come in can be both scary and exciting,” Chandran said. “It’s scary because we don’t know what the next disease might show up that we have to deal with.


“And it’s exciting because it allows us to make progress that can actually benefit human health.”


His work has grown even more critical as new coronavirus cases once again rise, fueled by the highly contagious stealth omicron (BA.2) variantDramatic undercounts now plague official infection totals despite the increasing numbers, experts say, pointing to decreased testing overall and the growing use of at-home rapid kits, whose results are not reported to the state.

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