The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is pulling together a new statewide initiative to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in public housing facilities: sampling and testing wastewater for the virus.
“COVID is excreted in the GI tract of individuals who are infected,” explains Dr. Adena Greenbaum of the Baltimore City Health Department.
If you start seeing levels of COVID increase in wastewater samples, it indicates that someone in the facility has the disease and you can start taking preventative measures.
Greenbaum, the department’s assistant commissioner of the Bureau of Clinical Services, said wastewater tests would help them prevent outbreaks before they happen.
Gov. Larry Hogan announced $1 million in CARES act funding for the project in November. MDE Assistant Secretary Suzanne Dorsey said this new testing strategy would primarily help residents in public housing and correctional facilities.
“How do we support and engage in the most vulnerable parts of our community? How do we bring resources to parts of our community that maybe are less likely to be tested?” Dorsey said.
In order for the test to be effective, a housing facility has to have a wastewater stream isolated from the rest of the city.
Dorsey said they aren’t targeting other vulnerable facilities like nursing homes, whose residents and staff already get regular clinical testing.