Amherst testing its wastewater for COVID

  • Amherst Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Monday, May 09, 2022

AMHERST — Amherst is one of 16 communities across the state having its municipal wastewater tested for COVID-19.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman told the Town Council this week that three or four samples each week are being submitted to the Department of Public Health for analysis.

The participation in the state program comes after Bockelman, Amy Rusiecki, assistant superintendent for the Department of Public Works, and Health Director Jennifer Brown met with DPH’s Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences.

“This is the best way, in our opinion, to monitor the virus now that community testing has been reduced in Amherst,” Bockelman wrote in a memo to councilors.

The testing will continue until June 30, though Bockelman said he will advocate that state funds be used to continue testing beyond that date, in particular because the community testing site at the University of Massachusetts closed this spring. Tests processed there have been replaced by home-based tests, SO less information is available about COVID in town.

Previously, Bockelman said the town had not been part of the program or been able to do testing on its own.

The UMass campus, however, has had its own wastewater testing since the early days of the pandemic in 2020, using information from regular sampling to make decisions on campus COVID policies.

A research team led by Caitlyn Butler, an associate professor in civil and environmental engineering, has used seed grants from the Institute for Applied Life Sciences to collect samples three times a week, testing these for the presence of COVID.