Amid rising COVID-19 sewage levels, Boston officials are stepping up efforts to track the virus across the city.
Boston plans to establish 11 new sewage testing stations, Bisola Ojikutu, the city’s public health commissioner, said Monday. The Boston Globe reported.
Speaking at a city council meeting, Ojikutu said the move was in response to a major drop in COVID-19 testing across the city.
“We will sample these sites weekly to determine the viral concentration in the wastewater locally,” Ojikutu said, according to the World. “And we will also be able to carry out monitoring regarding new variants.”
The goal is to better understand how the virus is spreading in specific Boston communities. Until now, the city was receiving aggregate information from Boston and 22 other communities, the World reported. Now, managers will be able to access more targeted wastewater data.
To set up these test sites, Boston is partnering 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 set up the testing sites, the World reported.
“The plan is to use [this] data for planning and developing interventions,” Ojikutu said.
Wastewater monitoring is a useful tool to combat the spread of COVID-19. When a person is infected with COVID-19, they release the virus into the wastewater, whether or not they have symptoms. For this reason, sewage tracking is more important than ever when testing drops, as it does in the city. The method often serves as an early indicator of future COVID-19 trends in a particular area. Wastewater monitoring, unlike other types of COVID-19 monitoring, does not rely on residents’ access to health care, on people seeking health care when they are sick, or on the availability of COVID-19 screening tests.
Right now, experts are seeing worrying trends for the holiday season. On Friday, city officials urged residents to get their updated booster shots and take precautions such as masking indoors.
The MWRA tracks wastewater from a northern region and a southern region of the communities. The northern region extends from Boston 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 sewage virus in the northern section of the MWRA increased by about 86% from Nov. 23 to Nov. 30, according to Data posted on Twitter by Ojikutu. It increased by almost 96% from November 16 to November 30.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rose 14% in the second half of November, city officials said. Boston also saw a 24% increase in new COVID-19 hospitalizations as of Nov. 30.
Only 11% of Boston residents have received the new booster, specifically designed to target the highly contagious variant of omicron, city officials said. The recall rate appears to be affected by racial disparities, with only 7% of Latinx and 9% of black residents getting vaccinated. The city said 11% of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders received the booster, along with 13% of white residents.
Ojikutu, in Friday’s statement, highlighted the fact that booster shots are safe, free and highly effective in preventing serious illnesses and hospitalizations. Experts recommend that people get a booster if it has been at least two months since they last received a dose of the vaccine. They are accessible to everyone from 5 years old.
The city operates several free walk-in clinics that offer COVID-19 testing, vaccines, boosters and flu shots. No insurance, ID or appointment is necessary. More information can be found at www.boston.gov/covid19.
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