Maine to use wastewater testing to detect COVID-19

BAR HARBOR — For two years, Americans have heard reports of COVID-19 case counts, hospitalizations and deaths; metrics that show the severity and trends of the pandemic. Now, there’s another tool that officials can use to track this coronavirus  wastewater testing. 

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working with the U.S. CDC, Maine Department of Environmental Protection and wastewater system operators across the state to test wastewater from individual Maine communities, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah announced at a briefing on Jan. 19. 

Shah explained that testing wastewater from municipal systems “can be a leading indicator of the presence of COVID-19 in a community.” 

The results can track changes in a community, be an earlier indicator of the presence of COVID than current metrics and provide a geographic-specific outlook at the amount of virus on a local level.  

Hospitalization rates, Shah said, don’t always give an accurate representation of the impact COVID is having in a community. For instance, some patients need to be transferred to an outside hospital for treatment. 

Early indications of an emergence or reemergence of COVID-19, Shah explained, can be used to alert local hospitals that a surge in cases could be coming. 

Roughly 20 communities statewide will be participating in the wastewater testing, from a “broad swath” of the state, with data slated to be publicly available on the U.S. CDC website, Shah said.  

The agencies are still finalizing what communities will be participating in the testing. 

Daily case counts alone paint an incomplete picture of the pandemic, Shah said. Not included in those case counts are positive results from at-home tests, which have surged in usage. There is also a lag in reporting due to the review process for a positive test result to become a positive “case.” And, the state has a backlog of 46,000 tests to review. 


Rebecca Alley

Rebecca Alley

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Rebecca is the Schoodic-area reporter and covers the towns of Eastbrook, Franklin, Hancock, Lamoine, Sorrento, Sullivan, Waltham, Winter Harbor and Trenton. She lives in Ellsworth with her husband and baby boy who was joyously welcomed in June 2020. Feel free to send tips and story ideas to [email protected]

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