WILTON — Wastewater samples will soon be screened as part of a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S. CDC) program.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced Wednesday, Jan. 26, more than a dozen sites throughout the state would be monitoring wastewater for the virus that causes COVID-19. Results will improve Maine’s ability to track the spread of the virus and tailor the state’s public health response in the face of the Omicron surge.

Sampling for the federal program had already begun Wednesday in Rockland and Boothby. Bethel, Wilton, Bath, Yarmouth, and Guilford-Sangerville were expected to begin sampling within a few days.

“Last year you asked me to look into COVID testing our wastewater,” Wilton Water and Wastewater Superintendent Heinz Grossman said during the Jan. 18 Selectperson meeting. “I did. It was extremely cost prohibitive because we’re in Western Maine.

“Through the summer, having discussions with different inspectors, I let one of the head inspectors know what you guys had asked,” Grossman said. “They’re doing a study around the country and I got us into it.”

Two fluid tests per week will be taken for a year, he noted. The federal government is taking care of the transportation, Grossman said. The big problem (last year) was getting the samples to Massachusetts, he added.


Grossman has completed the paperwork. Data from the study will be compiled by county and accessible to all, he said.

“We will be able to see our data versus data throughout the state of Maine,” he noted. “The goal was 20 [towns] in Maine so I’m glad I got us in to that. Good job on you guys asking me to pursue it. That helped it work out.”

In an email Thursday morning, Jan. 27, Grossman said he began taking samples Tuesday and he won’t need to do anything different when the second phase of the program starts. “The sample size is small, only 250 mL,” he wrote.

According to the DHHS release, the first phase of the U.S. CDC program, lasting three months, will focus on trends in the presence and concentration of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in wastewater. The second phase, lasting 9 months, will add genomic sequencing to help identify new variants. Data from the program will be publicly available at the county level in the coming days on the U.S. CDC COVID Data Tracker website.

The DHHS release also noted Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) has launched its own project at up to 16 municipal wastewater treatment plants throughout the state. Maine CDC is partnering with Biobot Analytics, Inc. of Cambridge, Massachusetts, to collect and test samples twice a week through at least June 2022. Eight sites are now receiving testing supplies and training: Blue Hill, Belfast, Greater Augusta Utility District, Calais, Brunswick Sewer District, Presque Isle Water District, and Portland Water District (East End and Westbrook). Additional sites will join the project in the coming week.

Maine CDC will update and post data from its wastewater testing program on its website once data is available. The data will also be available in a different format on the U.S. CDC website noted above.


Both programs will complement Maine’s existing COVID-19 screening systems, including clinical testing and monitoring of the health care system.

“Wastewater screening has become an important tool to help Maine gauge the prevalence of the virus and follow its trends at a time when public health experts are saying that new case counts are becoming a less valuable metric in the wake of omicron and increased at-home testing,” Governor Janet Mills said. “I welcome the opportunity to partner with municipalities to provide this expanded public health service, including detecting of potentially new variants, which will help keep Maine people informed, safer, and healthier.”

“Tracking community-level changes in the prevalence of COVID-19 helps to understand trends and target Maine’s response to the pandemic, particularly as new case counts become less meaningful during the omicron surge,” Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew and Maine CDC Director Nirav D. Shah said. “We welcome expanded wastewater screening  as well as new testing sites for individuals, which will help Maine people keep themselves and their communities safe and healthy.”

Wastewater screening can be an early indicator of the burden of COVID-19, helping public health officials better understand the extent of infections within communities where wastewater screening is occurring. The virus can be shed in the stool of individuals with symptomatic or asymptomatic infection, many of whom may not seek testing.

Also today, DHHS announced new options for COVID-19 testing in Maine.

• On Tuesday, a PCR testing site opened at the Windham Mall. Testing is available Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Appointments are required.


• Beginning Monday, Jan. 31, rapid antigen testing will be available at the YMCA in Auburn, Monday – Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Drop-ins are welcome. Curative, which already operates several testing sites in Maine, will begin managing the site in mid-February and expects to add PCR testing.

Additionally, the testing site at the Augusta Armory now accepts drop-ins. Appointments remain recommended but are no longer required.

Maine DHHS and Maine CDC continue to add COVID-19 testing options and, at the direction of Governor Mills, will be announcing a plan to distribute tests directly to Maine people.

More information on COVID-19 testing sites and general guidance on at-home testing options is available at maine.gov/covid19/testing.

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