BANGOR — As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues, water testing technology is also being used to anticipate outbreaks.
When the pandemic hit in mid-march of last year, testing people for coronavirus was limited.
Some epidemiology companies began testing sewage water for the presence of COVID-19.
City Water Quality Director Amanda Smith said they were one of the first communities in the nation to begin testing.
“When it comes to this sampling and analysis throughout the sewer, you can get a better scope of an outbreak up to a week in advance.”
Smith said every sample they tested came back negative.
Because of the low infection rates in Bangor at the time, the company began testing in Portland.
“If there is a spike there, we made the assumption if there is a spike there then it will inevitability make itself to Penobscot county,” said Smith.
Smith added because the stormwater drains into the plant, it dilutes the water making it harder to test.
“It’s more than water coming from toilets, we have many industries in the Bangor area that send us industrial flow,” she said.
Smith said the technology was initially used to detect opioid use, but now it can help detect a surge up to a week prior to an outbreak giving health officials time to plan.
“The pandemic has caused this technology to become widespread. Everybody has a lot of interest in it all at once and I think it will continue to evolve naturally,” said Smith.
Smith said a major benefit of testing is that it can indicate an outbreak when someone is asymptomatic.
While they are not currently testing in Bangor, Smith said once the technology is refined it will be used for challenges beyond COVID-19.