HACKENSACK, NJ — Bergen County’s ongoing Wastewater Testing Program indicates that the current concentration levels of COVID-19 are similar to those from late fall/early winter of 2020, which were followed by a spike in cases. The County saw 7,210 new positive cases for the month of March.

This data comes on the heels of several reports indicating rising cases across New Jersey, which currently has the highest rate of new COVID-19 infections in the country. The state’s northeast region, which includes Bergen, Essex, and Hudson Counties, scored a positivity rate of 10.81 as of March 27, the second highest rating in the state.

The County started the Wastewater Testing Program last year through a partnership with Columbia University and engineering firm AECOM to monitor COVID-19 RNA in wastewater at the Bergen County Utilities Authority wastewater system thanks to funding from a National Science Foundation Grant and CARES Act dollars. The BCUA wastewater collection and treatment system serves 47 municipalities in Bergen County with a population of approximately 580,000 residents. The data has proven a useful indicator for spotting upticks in community spread of COVID-19 independent of individuals being tested for COVID.

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According to an AECOM report from March 24, “the levels of SARS-CoV-2 concentrations are similar to the peak in late fall/early winter (late October 2020 to early November 2020) from approximately 1,600 copies/ml … to approximately 400-800 copies/ml for the 3/15/21 to 3/19/21 samples.”

“By testing the wastewater entering the Bergen County Utilities Authority’s (BCUA’s) wastewater system for COVID-19, public health experts and local officials have a snapshot of the presence of the virus in the community,” said Robert Laux, Executive Director of the Bergen County Utilities Authority. “The BCUA is proud to continue our partnership with the County of Bergen, AECOM and Columbia University on this important public health initiative.”

“The fact that community spread is trending towards the levels we saw post-Thanksgiving last year is troubling,” said Hansel Asmar, Bergen County Department of Health Services Director. “We need to double down on our collective efforts to reduce the spread. If the virus continues to mutate at the current pace, new-vaccine resistance variants could very well prolong this fight even further.”

“The latest wastewater testing results are concerning. As we work to get everyone vaccinated, we cannot let our guard down,” said Steve Tanelli, Chair of the Bergen County Board of Commissioners. “All of us, even the vaccinated, must continue to mask-up, wash our hands, and practice social distancing to prevent another spike in our community.”