Originally published on January 26, 2022 by The Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
AUGUSTA— The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced today more than a dozen sites throughout the state that will monitor wastewater for the virus that causes COVID-19, improving 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.
Two separate but complementary screening projects are being launched across Maine. Seven sites in Maine are participating in a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S. CDC) program that tests wastewater samples twice a week at up to 500 sites across the country. Sampling has already begun in Rockland and Boothbay, with the following five sites joining in the coming days: Bethel, Wilton, Bath, Yarmouth, and Guilford-Sangerville.
The first phase of the 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.
In addition to the U.S. CDC screening project, the 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.
As data become available, anticipated in the coming weeks, Maine CDC will update and post data from this wastewater testing program on its website. These data will also be available in a different format on the U.S. CDC website noted above.
Both the U.S. CDC and Maine CDC wastewater testing 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,” said Governor Janet Mills. “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, ” said Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew and Maine CDC Director Nirav D. Shah. “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.”
“We are thrilled to partner with Maine CDC on this critical public health project,” said Newsha Ghaeli, President & Cofounder of Biobot Analytics. “The State of Maine is on the vanguard of public health innovation, and has clearly recognized the value of wastewater monitoring as a tool to better track and contain the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants.”
“Maine Water Environment Association fully supports the SARS-CoV-2 wastewater surveillance project,” said David Beauchamp, President of Maine Water Environment Association (MeWEA). “The information that was obtained through the comprehensive and early testing of wastewater has proven to be invaluable. Two members of MeWEA, the Greater Augusta Utility District and Portland Water District, played significant roles in helping us understand the role wastewater testing for the different variants can have on determining the severity of an outbreak even before it becomes known to health officials or the public. This type of testing helps health officials to both plan and allocate badly needed resources to an area that needs it the most. We believe that testing wastewater will impact how best to manage our resources.”
“We are thrilled that wastewater utilities will be able to continue serving their communities and helping in the fight against COVID-19,” said Kirsten Hebert, Executive Director of the Maine Rural Water Association. “Since day one of the pandemic, utility workers have been on the front lines of protecting Mainers’ health and environment, often with little recognition. This project shines a light on the tough and incredibly important work that has never ceased during this pandemic.”
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 three 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. This site is being supported by a team from the Federal Increasing Community Access to Testing program in partnership with the Maine CDC, Windham Fire Department, and Northern Light Health Mercy.
- Beginning Thursday, January 27, saliva-based PCR testing will be available at the Biddeford Shopping Center, Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Appointments are required. The site is a collaboration among Maine CDC, York County Emergency Management Agency, Biddeford Emergency Management Agency, and ShieldT3 Health.
- Beginning Monday, January 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. The testing site is a collaboration among New Mainers Public Health Initiative, AK Health and Social Services, Multicultural Community and Family Support Services, Maine Community Integration, Gateway Community Services Maine, and Maine Immigrant Refugee Services. 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, are preparing to announce this week a plan to distribute tests directly to Maine people.
More information on COVID-19 testing sites, as well general guidance on at-home testing options, is available at maine.gov/covid19/testing.