COVID-19 levels in Boston area wastewater are rising slightly
“Respiratory viruses, such as COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, will continue to pose a challenge this holiday season,” Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, Boston Public Health Commissioner, said in a statement. “We are providing testing kits and other resources to ensure residents have the tools they need to stay safe and healthy.”
By determining the number of copies of SARS-CoV-2 RNA per milliliter of wastewater, officials can monitor the spread of the virus in a given community. For the southern division of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, the seven-day average count reached 596 copies per milliliter on November 16, compared to 360 on November 9. For the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority’s northern division, the seven-day average number was 433, up from 263.
Starting Monday, every U.S. home is eligible to request four additional free at-home tests — for a total of eight per household — from the federal government at www.covid.gov/tests.
“Residents should do their best to maintain their own stock of test kits to ensure at-home testing is available throughout the holiday season, and get tested before attending a gathering if they are feeling sick,” Health Commission officials said.
They also urged people to get the latest vaccine dose.
“Staying up to date on COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus, and influenza vaccines is an important strategy to reduce the risk of serious illness and hospitalization, especially during the holiday season when cold temperatures and spending more time indoors with loved ones increase the risk of infection.” disease, as well as the possibility of transmitting the disease to an adult or family member who may be at greater risk of developing a severe infection,” BPHC officials said in a statement.
The recent rise has been notable, epidemiologist Bill Hanage, an associate professor at Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a statement.
“Both the southern and northern systems have recently shown a clear jump in wastewater COVID-19 indicators,” said Hanage, who also serves as associate director of the Chan School’s Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics. “While the wastewater data is very noisy, the fact that we are seeing it in both suggests that it reflects a real wave of transmission. But more recent measurements have returned to what is considered normal.”
However, Hanage continued, “Every year since 2020, Thanksgiving has been followed by a spike in wastewater and cases. We can expect this to happen again this year as the virus enters new networks through holiday travel and gatherings. This won’t have any of the severe consequences we’ve seen in the past thanks to vaccination, but older people are still at risk of contracting coronavirus, just like other respiratory infections!
To ensure “you don’t bring an unwelcome guest to Thanksgiving dinner, you can use a rapid antigen test,” said Hanage, who is also a scientific advisor to Biobot, a Cambridge company that tracks wastewater data. “Of course, if you feel unwell and have symptoms of any respiratory infection, try not to share it with your grandparents.
COVID-19 and flu vaccines are available at the Bruce C. Bolling City Hall in Roxbury and at Boston City Hall. The Bowling Building is open Thursdays to Saturdays from 12pm to 6pm, and will be closed on Thursday, November 23 and Friday, November 24, and will resume normal business hours on November 25.
City Hall is open Mondays from 7am to 1pm and Wednesdays from 12 to 5pm. On Wednesday, November 22, it will only be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and normal business hours will resume on Monday.
Health officials said entry is welcome and no proof of insurance is needed. However, individuals may be asked about their insurance status for record-keeping purposes.
Travis Andersen of The Globe Staff contributed to this report.
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