Season of sickness: COVID-19 and flu cases rising in Massachusetts

BOSTON — It is to COVID-19 what the canary is to the coal mine.

The latest wastewater data suggests residents could be in for a potentially rough ride this holiday season.

“Right now is when we typically see respiratory illnesses start to grow in the United States,” said Dr. Marisa Donnelly, a Biobot epidemiologist.

Boston’s Public Health Commission reports a 23% rise in wastewater COVID-19, as well as sizeable jumps in wastewater influenza and RSV.

To make matters more troubling, just 16% of Boston residents elected to get a COVID-19 booster shot, and only one-third a flu shot.

“I think people are just virus fatigued,” said Dr. Robert Klugman of UMass Memorial Health. “They’ve had enough. There’s enough misinformation out there. They don’t trust the vaccine. They don’t think they’re effective... it’s unfortunate.”

In Worcester, wastewater COVID-19 is double the national average, and emergency department visits recently tripled at UMass Memorial Health.

And It’s the same story, if not worse, in other Massachusetts counties. In a week, wastewater COVID-19 in Middlesex County jumped 26%, and in Bristol County, a staggering 99%. And now there’s a new variant to contend with called JN-1.

“It’s much more contagious which means it takes less virus particles and less time of exposure to get sick,” said Dr. Klugman.

For the holiday weeks ahead, healthcare professionals are asking people to consider masking up when in crowded places.

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