Is the current COVID surge reaching its peak? New sewage data shows turnaround


Virus levels have been rising since March, but some are optimistic of a sustained decline.

Wastewater from 43 communities is tested at a plant on Deer Island. David L Ryan / Globe Staff

The researchers are optimistic that new sewage data shows that the current surge of COVID-19 may soon end. The information was released Monday by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. It shows decreasing levels of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Wastewater is analyzed by the MWRA at the organization’s Deer Island treatment plant. The data in this analysis is divided into two groups: the southern and northern regions of the MWRA system. The recent decrease is particularly significant in wastewater collected in the southern region, according to Bill Hanage, associate professor at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health.

“Something has definitely changed in the Southern system,” Hanage wrote on Twitter Tuesday.

However, he warned that this decline could prove unsustainable due to the many opportunities for transmission at this time of year.

The southern region of the MWRA, where the decline is most pronounced, includes communities like Framingham, Quincy and much of Brookline. The full map can be viewed on the organization’s website.

Recent data points to around two days of falling COVID levels. Since the beginning of March, these numbers have been steadily increasing.

Wastewater monitoring is a powerful tool for predicting future COVID trends. This is because people infected with the virus can excrete it in their stool, even if they have no symptoms, according to the CDC. The virus can then be detected in sewage, serving as an early warning sign for new outbreaks in particular locations.

Sewage testing could be even more essential at this stage of the pandemic, when more people than ever rely on rapid home tests. As these results are less frequently reported to public health agencies, wastewater data is crucial.


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