Wastewater test results offer troubling prediction about coming weeks in Massachusetts

BOSTON — The latest wastewater test results from the Deer Island Treatment Plant offer a troubling window into what may be ahead in Massachusetts.

A pilot study involving the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority has been examining wastewater samples from 43 communities that flow into the plant.

The results are broken up into two sections, the northern and the southern.

New data from the southern section, which includes as far west as Ashland and as far east as Hingham, is showing higher levels than the springtime surge.

Levels from the northern section, which includes Boston up through Wilmington, continue to be the higher of the two.

“People shed the virus early on in infection via this route,” said Dr. Bill Hanage, Associate Professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “It’s really a measurement of how much transmission is going on now, and the answer is quite a lot.”

The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority is now testing seven days a week, posting daily results as well as a seven-day average trend line.

This wastewater testing method picks up the virus from people who may not know they have the virus yet, presenting an early warning sign to health officials.

“The numbers are going up, and they’re going up pretty rapidly,” said Dr. Hanage. “If this includes transmission of older people, that’s really quite worrisome. That could mean a surge in health care a couple weeks away.”

Cambridge-based Biobot Analytics, which has a contract to process the samples, points out that this particular pilot study is not tracking how much of the virus is coming from each individual community.

Some cities and towns have hired Biobot to take it a step further to monitor that specific data.

“We’re currently actively working with a couple of communities within MWRA,” explained Biobot’s Jennings Heussner. “To get individual neighborhood-level data, communities would need to come to us.”

Heussner told Boston 25 News that some colleges and universities in the Boston area have also inquired about doing wastewater testing on local campuses.

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