Maryland Launches COVID-19 Wastewater Sampling Plan

As COVID-19 cases reach record highs throughout the country, some states are initiating new strategies to track and combat the virus. Maryland has expanded its COVID-19 Sewer Sentinel Initiative, the state’s targeted wastewater sampling program, with $1 million in new funding, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Thursday.

[READ: Virus Cases, Hospitalizations Increasing in Most States]

The initiative follows the state’s pilot program, launched over the summer, where wastewater was collected at five locations throughout Maryland, according to CBS Baltimore. The pilot program saw success by aligning with clinical testing in most cases, even predicting outbreaks before they were recognized through testing.

“This partnership between state and local health departments will test wastewater in public housing settings and correctional facilities across the state,” Hogan said in a press conference. “This science-based, field-tested program will help provide us more data to detect and respond to outbreaks, and to help us save more lives.”

The Old Line State is not alone in targeting sewage when it comes to tracking the spread of COVID-19. Early on in the coronavirus pandemic, from Israel to the Netherlands, researchers considered it a viable method of tracking the spread. Now, in the U.S., although Maryland appears to be the only state with formal implementation of the strategy, cities such as Houston, Boston and Burlington, Vermont, are using wastewater surveillance, while more than 65 college campuses have implemented the system as well, according to NPR.

[READ: The States Most Vulnerable to COVID-19]

Wastewater surveillance is the process of monitoring sewage from personal residences or other buildings, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The sewage can contain fecal matter traceable for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, making it a viable method for early detection of the coronavirus and tracing efforts.

The CDC is working to develop a national wastewater surveillance system database, where local governments can submit wastewater reports for public health action and comparison.

For some, establishing a wastewater surveillance system at the national level can’t come soon enough. In September, 11 members of Congress urged the CDC to take meaningful action toward initiating a national wastewater surveillance system to track COVID-19. CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield responded to the representatives’ letter, answering questions on funding, active databases and how its work can be inclusive of underserved communities.

Democratic Reps. T.J. Cox (Calif.) and Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) sent a second request on Nov. 5, asking for additional details from the CDC.

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