Here’s the Poop: The Coming Wave

Here’s the Poop: The Coming Wave

Back in late March I had a sewer pipe break in my basement, which required relocating my family (including two small children) to a hotel for a few days while repairs were done. It was a nightmare in the scary early days of the pandemic I’d rather not relive, but it did catalyze a family trip to Deer Island as an object lesson for my 4-year old. (Deer Island is actually part of the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, and includes a lovely set of public recreation trails that were closed last spring, but have since reopened.)

Folks may not be aware, but Deer Island Wastewater Treatment Plant is actually the second largest sewage treatment plant in the United States, receiving waste from 43 cities and towns in eastern Massachusetts via four megatunnels. More recently, Deer Island has actually been the site of thrice-weekly testing by Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) to track wastewater for indicators of COVID-19 infection. This is part of a program by Biobot, a company that aspires to relate wastewater infrastructure with public health and whose website states: “Everybody pees and poops, every day. We analyze viruses, bacteria, and chemical metabolites that are excreted in urine and stool and collected in sewers. This information is a readout of our health and wellbeing as a community. We map this data, empowering communities to tackle public health proactively.”

This is simultaneously cool and gross, but recently, totally terrifying. The graph of test results from Deer Island reveals the highest levels seen since April, with a notable spike in the past couple of weeks. This is a clear leading indicator of the state of the virus in greater Boston, and one that perhaps previews where we’re headed. The wave of restaurant closures due to a staff member testing positive for COVID is no surprise. We should all brace ourselves for the coming wave. The proof is in the poop.

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