State Covid-19 dashboard still green despite sharp rise in cases

Expert sees warning sign in Covid-contaminated sewage

State Covid-19 dashboard still green despite sharp rise in cases

BOSTON — It is a feast of numbers that can leave some starving for context. The Covid Dashboard, released every afternoon by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, is the state’s ongoing record of the pandemic. If it is to be believed, things are moving in the right direction -- even as cases sharply rose beginning last week.

On May 18, the Dashboard began assigning color-coded indicators of progress to six public health parameters. That day, the positive Covid-19 test rate got a ‘green’ -- and with good reason, it would seem, as cases over a 7-day period were down 64% from an April high.

What’s odd, is that the Covid-19 test rate is still green -- despite a jump in infections that’s resulted in a 7-day average increase of 129 percent over an observed low.

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DPH Spokesperson Tory Mazzolla tells Boston 25 News, “These indicators are not tied to a specific metric but instead consider a variety of data points when determining green or other colors.”

Brooke Nichols, PhD, an associate professor at BU’s School of Public Health and an infectious disease modeler, said this week’s dashboard, to her, showed the state is in a ‘slow boil’ of increasing cases.

“So instead of it being extremely alarming right now instead it’s just getting a little worse, week by week,” she said.

But Nichols is alarmed by what she’s seeing in recent wastewater data from Massachusetts:

“If you look towards the wastewater data, especially from the Boston area, you see exponential growth from the wastewater and what we expect is that then to reflect in case data over the coming week or so,” she said.

Since early in the pandemic, researchers have established Covid-19 can be excreted through the intestines -- even in asymptomatic or presymptomatic people -- in other words, in those unlikely to get tested. So the presence of Covid in wastewater can give a more complete picture of infection rates.

“Between the data that we observe from the Dashboard and the sewage data together tells us, yikes... if we actually want to prevent a second wave now is the time to do it,” Nichols said. “And the issue, of course, is that if it doesn’t look that bad (per the Dashboard) then people may be less likely to adhere to mitigation measures that are put into place.”

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