COVID Level in Boston Area's Wastewater Returns to Historic High

Testing of wastewater in the Boston area shows the highest level of coronavirus that has been seen so far in 2021

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As hospital beds in Massachusetts fill up, experts are trying to predict how bad the winter surge could be, and the state's wastewater could hold the key.

The Boston-area wastewater tracker is showing the highest level of the virus that has been seen so far this year, about as high as last winter's spike reached.



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"Right now, we are seeing another spike," said Mariana Matus, the CEO and founder of Biobot Analytics.

Biodot's wastewater COVID data from Dec. 6, 2021.
Biodot's wastewater COVID data from Dec. 6, 2021.

Biobot, a Cambridge-based company, has been tracking the viral concentration of COVID-19 in the state's wastewater since March 2020. Matus said researchers started to notice a new uptick starting in late October of this year.

"We don't know yet if this spike could be driven by Thanksgiving activities or if it could be contribution from the new omicron variant," Matus said.

We got an up-close explanation of how one Massachusetts company, Biobot Analytics, has been analyzing wastewater to monitor for coronavirus spikes in the Boston area and around the country.

Her team is doing sequencing to try and find out the source, but medical experts said there already takeaways.

"What it tells me is that COVID is out there, but it may be asymptomatic in patients that have been vaccinated," Dr. Ali Raja said.

Raja said it supports the case to continue to wear masks in public indoor settings and for getting the booster, especially as hospital beds start to fill up across the state.

"Our hospital is packed. I just walked down the hall to the ER and we are stuffed to the gills of really sick patients," Raja said.

The trend is why facilities like the Crush COVID monoclonal antibody clinic at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester are so important.

"This definitely helps prevent hospitalization, and it could save your life," said Dr. Sandeep Jubbal, an infectious disease specialist at UMass Memorial.

Right now, the treatment, given through an IV, is only available to high-risk COVID patients, but it reduces hospitalization by 70%. The one at UMass Memorial was the seventh in the nation to open, but the therapy is now a pillar of the White House's plan to combat the winter surge.

Doctors at UMass Memorial would like to see the treatment become more accessible, and for their clinic become a model for other places.

"We need to see the centers open up in the entire country. We want this medication to be given out like water," Jubbal said.

Jubbal said the treatment does not make getting the vaccine and booster any less important.

Massachusetts has 32 monoclonal antibody clinics, and recently opened some in Fall River, Holyoke and Everett.

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