COVID source callout: Wastewater data on a break

If you went to check Biobot’s COVID-19 wastewater dashboard this week, you may have noticed that the company hasn’t updated its data since September 14.

Biobot’s website doesn’t provide an explanation for the lack of updates, but you can find one on another source: the wastewater data page run by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA), covering the greater Boston area. As Biobot was founded in Boston (by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), the city is one of Biobot’s longest-running COVID-19 sampling sites.

As of September 25, a note on the MWRA page reads: “Biobot will be closing their lab next week for a company retreat. We don’t expect any data updates between 9/18/2022 and 9/25/2022. They expect to catch up to the normal posting schedule by 9/27/2022.”

It seems logical to assume this lab closure also applies to the company’s national dashboard. 

Now, to be clear, I have nothing against Biobot for taking a company retreat; anyone working in public health deserves a break sometimes, and I hope the retreat is productive for the company’s staff. But when a private company represents the best source for a crucial pandemic-tracking metric—as Biobot is able to provide unified, national and regional estimates better than the CDC can—even a week-long break can be a problem for people who rely on these data.

Ideally, there should be enough public health funding going around that everyone working in wastewater surveillance can take all the breaks they need without disrupting data systems. This is just a small example of a much bigger issue.

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