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Greater Augusta Utility District to begin collecting wastewater samples for COVID-19 testing

A New England-based lab is testing sewage samples for prevalence of coronavirus in 42 states including Maine.

Samples of wastewater are being used to provide early warning signs to prevent the spread of COVID-19

"One of the concerns with COVID is there are people walking around who don't have symptoms yet but can transmit the disease to another person," said Phyllis Rand, the Water Quality Coordinator for the Greater Augusta Utility District.

This week the Greater Augusta Utility District will begin collecting sewage samples to detect the prevalence of COVID-19 in the areas they serve.

"We're going to see some really interesting results come out of it," Rand said.

The process is called wastewater epidemiology.

The coronavirus is shed in the stool of those who are infected and it makes its way into our sewers.

A small sample of sewage is collected and sent to Biobot's lab in Boston where it is run through testing.

The cost, however, can be prohibitive. 

"Normally it's $1,200 per sample," Rand said. "And you don't just take one sample you take a series of samples in order to determine if there are trends."

But it's possible thanks to $25,000 in Keep Maine Healthy funding obtained by the city. 

"We're fortunate to get this grant funding that will carry us through October," Rand said.

The Greater Augusta Utility District will be sending its first samples out on Monday.

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