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Coronavirus levels continue decline in region’s wastewater, amid national COVID-19 surge

A line of people waited on Allston Street for COVID-19 testing at West End House, including many children who required a test before returning to school early this month.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Coronavirus levels in the Boston region’s wastewater continued to fall Friday, according to state data reported Sunday, but public health officials cautioned that COVID-19 remained a threat amid a nationwide surge in cases and hospitalizations.

The latest figures from the region’s wastewater data, seen by experts as an early warning system on the virus’s progress locally, came amid grim national news about the pandemic.

The nation continues to grapple with soaring new cases daily — passing more than 800,000 as of Sunday with the spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant — while hospitals are stressed caring for a surge in patients.

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Dr. Vivek Murthy, the US surgeon general, told CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday that the next few weeks “will be tough” for the nation.

Less than 63 percent of eligible Americans are fully vaccinated, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while about 38 percent have received a booster.

“This is a very difficult time during this surge, we are seeing high case numbers and hospitalization rates,” Murthy said. “And we are seeing strain in many of our hospitals around the country.”

In the Boston area, the data collected from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority’s Deer Island water treatment plant showed the seven-day average of virus levels had fallen, as of Friday, to levels not seen since last month.

Biobot Analytics of Cambridge, which performs the analysis, tests for coronavirus RNA copies per milliliter of wastewater. Officials with the company have said the amount of virus detected in the water is correlated with new COVID-19 cases diagnosed several days later.

Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, said on Twitter Sunday afternoon that the numbers of new daily infections in some places — including the New England states, New York, New Jersey, and Florida — will continue to trend downward after recent peaks.

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But there “is no single national experience” with the current surge, Jha said. States that are still early in the Omicron surge will continue seeing rising case counts.

Jha also warned that, despite the soaring numbers of identified daily new cases, those figures are likely missing about 75 percent to 80 percent of infections.

And even in places where numbers of new daily cases are declining, people still face the risk of infection, he said, and there will be more weeks of high hospitalizations.

“So we need to continue to focus on vaccinations, testing, ventilation, and wearing mask indoors [to] slow spread and reduce the burden on our hospitals,” Jha said.


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.