COVID

Boston area wastewater portends potential uptick in COVID-19 cases

“People might be tired of taking precautions … but they should understand the virus is still out there.”

To combat the spread of the virus, Dr. Paul Sax urges people to get vaccinated, get COVID-19 tested before social gatherings and to wear a mask indoors. Matt Cosby/The New York Times

Wastewater has been a consistent predictor of COVID-19 trends throughout the pandemic, and it may be predicting an increase in COVID-19 cases again this November, heading into the holiday season.

COVID-19 cases across the country have plateaued, even in Massachusetts, where recent cases have remained at a steady seven-day average of approximately 1,370. But the data shows a change may be coming. 

A graph, which was tweeted by Dr. Paul Sax, an infectious diseases doctor at Brigham and Women’s hospital, shows an increase in traces of COVID-19 detected in wastewater in Metro Boston from data accumulated by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority

“I think [the data is] concerning because all along, there has been some amount of COVID fatigue, people might be tired of taking precautions … but they should understand the virus is still out there,” Sax told Boston.com.

COVID FUTURE:

The data from the wastewater typically predicts trends of COVID-19 a few weeks in advance, as “a harbinger of what’s coming,” Sax says. If there is an increase in cases, he says it will most likely be due to the colder weather and people congregating indoors. 

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COVID-19 cases from this year are relatively low compared to that of last year, mainly due to the widespread availability of the vaccine, especially with the 70% vaccination rate in Massachusetts. But there are still those who are unvaccinated or otherwise at risk, including some children and those who are immunocompromised. Breakthrough cases are also still common; symptoms may not surface, as vaccinated individuals are often asymptomatic, but the virus can still be spread to other individuals. 

Sax said his tweet was a reminder to everyone, as the weather becomes colder, that the virus is till spreading and the Delta variant tends to spread much faster. 

“The latest trend suggests it might be going up, it’s definitely not going down and it hasn’t gone down in some time,” Sax said, pointing to the increase in cases since August when cases were at an all-time low following the release of the vaccines. 

To combat the spread of the virus, Sax urges people to get vaccinated, get COVID-19 tested before social gatherings, and to wear a mask indoors. Other public health officials are also echoing the same sentiment as people begin to gather for the holiday season.

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