Is the Current COVID Surge Peaking? New wastewater data show a trend reversal


Virus levels have risen since March, but some are optimistic about a continued decline.

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

Researchers are optimistic that new data from the wastewater sector shows the current COVID-19 surge may be coming to an end soon. The information was released by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority on Monday. It shows decreasing levels of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The effluent is analyzed by the MWRA at the organization’s Deer Island Wastewater Treatment Plant. Data from this analysis is divided into two groups: the southern and northern regions of the MWRA system. According to Bill Hanage, an associate professor at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health, the recent decline in wastewater collected from the southern region is particularly pronounced.

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

However, he warned that this drop could prove unsustainable due to the numerous transmission opportunities at this time of year.

The southern region of the MWRA, where the decline is most pronounced, includes communities such as Framingham, Quincy and much of Brookline. The full map is available on the organization’s website.

The latest data points to around two days of falling COVID levels. These numbers have been rising steadily since the beginning of March.

Wastewater monitoring is a powerful tool for predicting future COVID trends. This is because those infected with the virus can pass it in their feces even if they have no symptoms, according to the CDC. The virus can then be detected in wastewater and serves as an early warning sign of further outbreaks in specific locations.

Sewage analysis could become even more important during this phase of the pandemic, with more people than ever relying on quick, at-home testing. Because these results are less frequently reported to public health organizations, wastewater data is critical.

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