Palm Springs city officials say the amount of Covid-19 in wastewater samples is back to low levels after an alarming spike was reported last week.
This comes as the city is expected to remove its mask mandate – but there is some concern about the virus being spread by out-of-town visitors.
City Manager Justin Clifton said samples last week showed an increase of more than 1,000 percent, translating to between 1,000 and 2,000 cases. But after another week of testing, he said it appeared the levels were back to being low.
Clifton called the spike a possible "outlier," or an inexact estimate due to how the data is extrapolated, but he said it is important to pay attention to.
"Viral copies can be found in wastewater before somebody is symptomatic," Clifton said. "So this is a way for us to potentially capture trends; it's a way for us to monitor tourist activity."
Business owner Joy Meredith said with a lot of out-of-town visitors in the city right now, she's worried about possible tourist transmission – especially as the CDC relaxes outdoor mask guidelines for people who are fully vaccinated.
"Now we have a problem happening where you want to say something to somebody but they say, 'Oh, I've been vaccinated,' and that may or may not be true," Meredith said.
Palm Springs officials said they plan to align with the state of California and adopt the relaxed outdoor mask policy, but haven't done so yet.
Meredith said she's seeing an increasing number of customers showing up without their masks, and the new guidelines are only muddying the waters.
"For us, we just want to be safe so we do require that everybody inside certainly wears a mask," she said. "But now that some people are walking around outside without one, it's created some confusion."
With wastewater Covid levels returning to a comfortable low point, city officials said there is not yet cause for concern.
"Tourism is thriving in Palm Springs, yet we see other places nationally and globally where things are headed in the wrong direction," Clifton said. "So needless to say, if we see even a small trend that suggests maybe this is starting to go the bad way... we want to pay attention."
Clifton said he is expecting the mask mandate to be lifted within the next couple of days, and there are even rumblings of the return of larger events like VillageFest. He expects it to be discussed in future council meetings.