Boston Establishing 11 Wastewater COVID-19 Testing Sites

The city of Boston will begin sampling water from additional sites on a weekly basis as COVID levels rise

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Boston is planning to establish 11 wastewater testing sites across the city to help monitor for spikes as data shows COVID cases are on the rise.

The head of the Boston Public Health Commission said the city is partnering with vendors to create the sites as the state's COVID-19 wastewater data shows levels as high as they've been since last winter's omicron surge. In Boston itself, wastewater COVID levels have effectively doubled.

"It does certainly provide much more granular information that can be used effectively for disease control and has the potential to be adapted to other infections," Brigham and Women's Chief of Infectious Disease Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes said during NBC10 Boston's weekly "COVID Q&A" series.

Top Boston doctors talk about rising COVID levels detected in Boston-area wastewater during NBC10 Boston’s weekly “COVID Q&A” series.

The city will be sampling water from the sites on a weekly basis, according to Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, Boston’s public health commissioner. During a Boston City Council meeting Monday, Ojikutu said the testing will also help the city monitor for the appearance of new variants of the disease, according to The Boston Globe.

Top Boston doctors agreed that would be a benefit, adding that the program could be a good tool for other viruses. But that all depends on the type of virus, Boston Medical Center's Dr. David Hamer explained. Respiratory viruses like RSV and the flu likely won't show up in wastewater, but Hepatitis A and polio would.

"There's certain diseases that this is going to be useful for -- those that have fecal shedding of virus or other substances," Hamer said. "And others where it may be less useful."

Flu hospitalization rates are higher than they've been in a decade, according to the CDC, with COVID-19 and RSV affecting patients, as well.

The city is currently receiving wastewater information pulled together from Boston and 22 other nearby locations. City health officials hope the Boston testing sites will help them understand what’s happening at a neighborhood level. Tufts Medical Center's Dr. Shira Doron emphasized the importance of seeing neighborhood-level data, both for public health experts and for those who are high-risk.

"I'm most excited though, in terms of the new wastewater testing sites, about some of the non-COVID applications that what might be considered. If you were to say, look for polio, for example, and you knew that there was polio in a specific neighborhood or town, you can really hone in and focus -- because resources are finite -- focus your public health efforts," Doron said. "Particularly, say for polio, on vaccination and looking at educating clinicians about watching for symptoms of polio, for example."

The city is tapping $3.9 million in federal funding to pay for the project.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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