COVID

‘Even worse today’: COVID-19 wastewater levels increasing as state sees jump in percent positivity

“Lead on masking for yourselves and each other this holiday season.”

Lane Turner / The Boston Globe, File

It appears COVID-19 is on the upswing again in Massachusetts following the Thanksgiving holiday. 

The latest report from the state’s Department of Public Health representing data on virus activity for the last seven days showed that the percent positivity rate, the seven-day average of positive coronavirus tests performed, jumped to 7.14 percent, up from 5.59 percent in the previous week. The state reported 5,068 new cases, up from the 4,425 reported from the previous seven days. 

The number of individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 also increased, rising to 650 from 562. Those in the ICU number 72, compared to 64 in the previous week. The number of intubated patients also jumped to 28 from 18. 

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Alongside the state’s data, levels of COVID-19 in Boston-area wastewater are also on the rise, surging almost 90 percent in the last two weeks, according to the Boston Herald

Levels of the virus in area wastewater have been used as an early indicator of COVID-19 spread in the community throughout the pandemic. 

According to the Herald, the seven-day average of COVID-19 levels for the southern region of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority is up 88 percent since mid-November, while the areas north of Boston have seen a 94 percent jump in the last two weeks. 

The spiking wastewater levels are prompting some public health experts to urge area officials to take action by requiring masking in schools. 

“Massachusetts has an uptick in COVID after the holiday,” Julia Raifman, a professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health, wrote on Twitter. “Community leaders & experts anticipated this surge & asked for a 2 week mask policy in schools after the break. What happens next is a policy choice. I’m hopeful we will choose to reduce harms & inequities.” 

She noted that more than 150 experts signed on to a plan recommending COVID-19 mitigation measures, like supporting testing and requiring masks at the start of surges. 

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Viewing the latest wastewater data for the Boston area on Thursday, Raifman said now is a key time for everyone to get themselves, their children, and loved ones vaccinated against both the flu and COVID-19.

She urged individuals to take mitigation steps themselves. 

“The wastewater data look even worse today,” she wrote. “We can still avert many inequitable harms with policy action. Lead on masking for yourselves and each other this holiday season.”

Since the Thanksgiving holiday, the Boston Public Health Commission has been urging individuals to both test to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to stay up-to-date with vaccinations to protect against the virus.

On Friday, the commission doubled down on its call for Boston residents to get their COVID-19 boosters. 

“Boston’s updated booster rate is lagging as COVID-19  indicators trend upward,” the commission said. “Family gatherings and more time spent indoors during the winter will further increase the risk of getting COVID-19, as well as other transmissible diseases like the flu and RSV.”

Steps like masking indoors will help cut down on the spread of respiratory viral illnesses, the commission noted. 

Noting the rising wastewater trends, the public health agency said COVID-19 cases have increased by 14 percent during the last two weeks in the city. 

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As of Wednesday, Boston has also seen a 24 percent increase in new COVID-19 related hospitalizations, with only 11 percent of residents having received the new omicron-specific, bivalent booster, according to the commission. And racial disparities persist in the booster rates among city residents. 

According to the commission, only 7 percent of Latinx and 9 percent of Black residents have received the bivalent booster, as compared to 11 percent of AAPI residents and 13 percent of white. 

“Those who have not gotten them are vulnerable to severe illness and hospitalization,” the commission wrote. “A sudden influx of COVID-19 related hospitalizations would put even greater pressure on hospitals and providers.”

Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, Commissioner of Public Health and Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission, urged residents to make use of the free vaccine clinics being operated by the city. 

“Let’s prioritize staying healthy this holiday season,” she said in a statement. “In addition to masking indoors, one of the easiest and most effective ways to do that is by getting a COVID-19 booster and an annual flu shot.” 

In a message to Boston.com, Boston University’s Raifman stressed that now is the time for policymakers to implement temporary mask policies to “reduce the harms and inequities of COVID to health and economic hardship.”

“We should do everything we can to reduce the burden on pediatricians and health care workers who are already stretched beyond capacity,” she wrote. “The holiday spirit is about taking care of one another, and this is a key time for policymakers to lead on doing so. That means wearing masks for a few weeks while transmission is increasing.”

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