Poop and Harlem’s Hidden COVID Numbers

In September 2020, New York began to sample and test wastewater at New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) wastewater plants for COVID-19.

If you recall an earlier post on wastewater and New York – https://hnba.nyc/where-does-my-sewage-go/ – you may remember that virtually all of Harlem’s wastewater (basically anything that goes down your drain or toilet) ends up at Wards’ Island’s DEP complex. New York Open Data has made the wastewater sampling data available, so I decided to plot COVID-19 as detected in our (Harlem’s) poop.

September 2020 December 2020 December 2021 April 2022

As you likely know, wastewater sampling can only give a community average of sorts, but what it does (that swab sampling of individual New Yorkers can’t do) is integrates information on the people who never or rarely test.

The chart above is amazing and terrifying at the same time. The left-hand side is September 2020, and the right hand side is April 2022.

That crazy spike is from 12/27/2021 – after Thanksgiving 2021, around Christmas – when Omicron converged in the US. Holiday travel, family gatherings, shopping, and the shift to socializing indoors, all combined with a more contagious COVID variant.

Juneteenth Celebration on East 111st Street

(between Lex/3rd)