Experts at the Deer Island Wastewater Treatment Plant in Boston Harbor recently measured exceptionally high levels of COVID-19 in the sewage water that is treated at the plant. Health officials explained that high levels of the virus measured in sewage is a relatively new way of determining the rate of infections among the local population.
Throughout the last two weeks, state officials at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health have been reporting increasing rates of COVID-19 positive cases, as well as increasing rates of hospitalizations due to the virus. This has been reflected in the wastewater measurements which are showing the same viral levels as last January, which was during the height of the 2021 winter surge in positive cases.
The northern and northwestern suburbs of Boston, including Westford and the Merrimack Valley, have shown particularly high rates of the virus detected in their wastewater. This raises many concerns as Westford residents, schools, and businesses are supplied by groundwater from the Merrimack River Basin Aquifer. The Merrimack River can be a destination for raw sewage coming from toilets and septic tanks in the surrounding communities.
Since the beginning of the month, health officials have reported more than 5,000 daily positive cases of the virus, which was the first time there were over 5,000 daily infections since January.
Suffolk University professor Dr. Martha Richmond, who has a Masters in Public Health in epidemiology, was asked about the threat and severity of the new Omicron variant.
“My take on it is that from all the evidence we have so far, it’s less likely to be problematic, but more easily transmitted,” said Richmond.
Richmond explained that health officials are concerned that the recent increase in positive cases is a result of the Omicron variant, and that even people who have been vaccinated are at risk if they have not yet received their COVID-19 booster shot.
“If it can infect, and only very moderately affect people who are infected, then the virus can spread very easily,” Richmond said. “A lot of diseases can be prevented by vaccines for one, but even without vaccines, there are simple cautionary measures people can take,” she added.
As of right now, the Massachusetts state government has not enforced any new lockdown, quarantine or vaccination protocols as a result of the ongoing pandemic, but it encourages all residents who are ages 16 and older that live, work, or study in Massachusetts, to get a COVID-19 booster shot.