Amid rising numbers, Boston plans to create 11 COVID wastewater testing sites


Health

While the state tracks wastewater data from a number of communities, Boston officials are hoping to get more specific data.

A view of the MWRA Deer Island Wastewater Treatment Plant located on Deer Island Winthrop. David L. Ryan/Boston Globe

Amid a surge in wastewater levels of COVID-19, Boston officials are ramping up their efforts to track the virus throughout the city. 

Boston is planning to establish 11 new wastewater testing stations, Bisola Ojikutu, the city’s public health commissioner, said on Monday, The Boston Globe reported. 

Speaking at a City Council meeting, Ojikutu said that the move was in response to significant declines in COVID-19 testing across the city. 

“We will be sampling these sites weekly to determine viral concentration in wastewater locally,” Ojikutu said, according to the Globe. “And we’ll also be able to conduct surveillance regarding new variants.”

The goal is to better understand how the virus is spreading within specific Boston communities. Up until now, the city has been receiving aggregated information from Boston and 22 other communities, the Globe reported. Now, officials will be able to access more targeted wastewater data. 

To set up these testing sites, Boston is teaming up with BioBot Analytics, a wastewater epidemiology company that tracks COVID-19 levels in the eastern part of the state for the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. 

Boston will use $3.9 million in federal funding to get the testing sites up and running, the Globe reported. 

COVID-19 wastewater tracking data from the MWRA’s northern section shows a large spike at the end of November. – Massachusetts Water Resources Authority

“The plan is to use [this] data for planning and intervention development,” Ojikutu said.

Wastewater tracking is a useful tool in fighting the spread of COVID-19. When a person is infected with COVID-19, they shed the virus into wastewater regardless of whether or not they are exhibiting symptoms. For this reason, wastewater tracking is more important than ever when testing declines, as it has in the city. The method often serves as an early indicator of future COVID-19 trends in a particular area. Wastewater surveillance, as opposed to other types of COVID-19 surveillance, does not rely on residents having access to healthcare, people seeking healthcare while sick, or on the availability of COVID-19 testing. 

At the moment, experts are seeing worrying trends for the holiday season. City officials on Friday urged residents to get their updated booster shots and take precautions like masking indoors. 

The MWRA tracks wastewater from a northern region and a southern region of communities. The northern region stretches from Boston up to Wilmington and Reading. The southern region includes parts of Newton and Brookline and towns as far south as Walpole and Stoughton.

The amount of the wastewater virus in MWRA’s northern section increased by about 86% from Nov. 23 through Nov. 30, according to data posted on Twitter by Ojikutu. It rose by almost 96% from Nov. 16 through Nov. 30. 

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased by 14% during the second half of November, city officials said. Boston also saw a 24% increase in new COVID-19 related hospitalizations as of Nov. 30.

Just 11% of Boston residents have received the new booster, specifically designed to target the highly contagious omicron variant, city officials said. The booster rate appears to be affected by racial disparities, with only 7% of Latinx and 9% of Black residents getting the shot. The city said 11% of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders received the booster, along with 13% of white residents.

Ojikutu, in the Friday release, stressed the fact that booster shots are safe, free, and very effective at preventing severe illness and hospitalization. Experts recommend that people receive a booster if it has been at least two months since they last received a vaccine dose. They are available to everyone aged 5 and older. 

The city operates several free, walk-in clinics that offer COVID-19 testing, vaccines, boosters, and flu shots. No insurance, IDs, or appointments are necessary. More information can be found at www.boston.gov/covid19.





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