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Tests for coronavirus in waste water in Boston area show encouraging signs

The vaccine is prepared at a concession stand at the Fenway Park mass vaccination site. Officials are urging people to get their shots.
The vaccine is prepared at a concession stand at the Fenway Park mass vaccination site. Officials are urging people to get their shots.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Tests for traces of the coronavirus in the waste water at the Deer Island treatment plant are showing encouraging signs.

After some brief upticks, the results for both the northern section of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority system, which includes Boston, and the southern section have resumed their downward trend.

Officials are hoping the tests can serve as an early warning system for virus surges. The pilot program looks for SARS-CoV-2 RNA copies per milliliter of waste water. Cambridge-based Biobot Analytics, which conducts the testing, says it has found that the amount of virus in the waste water is correlated with newly diagnosed coronavirus cases four to 10 days later.

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The results, released Tuesday, covered tests conducted through Monday.

Other coronavirus metrics, such as cases, deaths, and hospitalizations, also have been suggesting the state’s second surge is subsiding. The same phenomenon is being seen nationally.

The good news comes with a caveat. Public health officials and experts are warning that new coronavirus variants could start a new stage of the pandemic.

It’s imperative for people to get vaccinated as soon as possible, the experts and officials say, to get ahead of the variants. They’re also urging people to continue public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, frequent handwashing, and avoiding large gatherings.

Biobot says its testing detects both the current virus and variants.



Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.