Bangor has been monitoring human wastewater for trace amounts of COVID-19, and the data predict an increase in cases of coronavirus.
PORTLAND, Maine – Coronavirus cases are on the rise in Bangor, according to water flushed down the toilet.
City officials are closely monitoring coronavirus trace particles from the region’s wastewater before entering Bangor wastewater treatment plant and is eventually filtered into the Penobscot River.
Amanda Smith, director of water quality management, said the water treatment plant works closely with the Maine Center for Disease Control to collect samples twice daily.
“[Coronavirus cases are] it was not that high when we started sampling in February, but we see an increase that was expected, “said Smith.
Data from wastewater in Bangor show a slight increase in COVID mass over the last four weeks, but still not as high as the highest omicron wave from last winter.
Factors such as weather and water flow dictate the saturation of the sample taken by the plant, so Smith said looking at data over time is the only way to measure where COVID levels go in wastewater.
“It’s being seen as a trend and we’m going up. We actually had a very high hit on a COVID test last week,” Smith said.
Dr. Robert Wheeler of the University of Maine, who studies wastewater on campus for COVID, said Bangor’s data predicts an increase in cases.
“I would say that it definitely indicates that we want more viruses here in the Bangor area. We will probably see more cases. We will probably see more pressure on the hospital system in the coming weeks,” Wheeler said.
He added that it is not wise to rely on wastewater data alone, and his assessment comes from the fact that Bangor’s COVID case data is also rising.
Officials with Northern Light Health talks have risen, as predicted by local wastewater.
“We believe it can predict what will happen to us clinically over the next two to four weeks. Most of the reports show an upward trend,” said Dr. James Jarvis, Director of Clinical Education.
Jarvis added that wastewater sampling is one of the better ways to test a community’s exposure to COVID-19, given the prevalence of in-home COVID tests, which sometimes lead to unreported results to the CDC.
“Wastewater just adds to this dataset by allowing us to really know what is excreted in our community,” Jarvis said.
The Bangor Wastewater Treatment Plant will continue to monitor the water for COVID until June.