COVID

Tracking COVID-19 in wastewater is a powerful tool used to gain early insight into future viral trends.

View of the MWRA Deer Island sewage treatment plant. David L. Ryan / Boston Globe

Massachusetts residents gearing up for the November COVID-19 surge can breathe a sigh of relief – for now.

The concentration of COVID-19 in wastewater in much of Boston is on a downward trend, which is a welcome sign to those hoping to schedule safe Christmas gatherings later this month. COVID-19 tracking in wastewater is a powerful tool used to gain early insight into upcoming viral trends.

According data from the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority. The agency tracks samples from the North and South region of the community near Boston. The northern region stretches from Boston as far as Wilmington and Reading. The southern region includes parts of Newton and Brookline, and cities as far south as Walpole and Stoughton. The southern region also extends to the west, including Framingham and Natick.

The MWRA tracks SARS-CoV-2 RNA copy number per milliliter of water. The seven-day mean for the southern region on October 27 was 594 RNA copies / ml. A week earlier, on October 20, the mean was 987 RNA copies / ml. The average of the southern region on October 13 was 1,094 RNA copies / ml.

Similar trends are observed in the northern region. The seven-day mean for this area was 340 RNA copies / ml on October 27. One week earlier, the mean was 877 RNA copies / ml. The mean for the northern region on October 13 was 673 RNA copies / ml.

This data is collected during tests at the MWRA Deer Island treatment plant. Samples are taken three to seven times a week. They are analyzed by Biobot Analytics, a company dealing with epidemiology of wastewater.

Wastewater tracking is important because people infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, dump it down the drain when they use the bathroom. This happens regardless of whether they show symptoms or not according to NIH. In this way, waste water sampling can be used as an early warning of increased virus levels in a specific community.

While wastewater tracking is not as robust across Massachusetts as it is around the Boston area, data collected over the past six weeks shows downward trends in almost every Massachusetts county, according to Biobot.

The company also breaks down wastewater data by region. Virus levels in the Northeast of the country have declined since early October, but still remain above the national and other regions’ average. The Northeast was found to average 786 RNA copies / ml on October 26, compared with 1,248 RNA copies / ml on October 12.

According to Biobot, the national average on October 26 was 518 RNA copies / ml. A large copy peak was detected in mid-July, but nothing compared to the highest national average recorded at 4,780 RNA copies / ml on December 29, 2021.

To make sure people stay safe in the upcoming holiday season, officials are calling on the public to get updated booster vaccinations. Information on vaccines, including how to find a place to get free injections, is available online at mass.gov/covid-19-vaccine.

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