ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — Gov. Larry Hogan announced a statewide initiative Thursday to sample wastewater as an early warning system of a COVID-19 outbreak in vulnerable communities.

As part of Maryland’s COVID-19 Sewer Sentinel Initiative, the governor has approved funding of $1 million to sample wastewater for the virus that causes COVID-19 in congregate living settings.

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The Maryland Department of the Environment and the Maryland Department of Health will lead the testing effort.

“Our administration is setting an example for the nation on how states can use cutting-edge science, innovative technology, and local partnerships to protect public health and help combat a second wave of COVID-19 infections,” the governor said.

The next phase of the initiative builds upon information obtained during a pilot project that began this summer.

In that pilot, wastewater was collected from five locations across Maryland and analyzed for the coronavirus.

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The pilot showed that monitoring could produce meaningful results under proper sampling methodology. In most cases, the wastewater sampling results aligned with results observed through clinical testing.

The pilot project also showed that wastewater sampling provided advanced notice of an outbreak before they were seen through traditional testing.

Ben Grumbles, with the Maryland Department of the Environment, said wastewater can tell the story of how healthy/unhealthy a person is by identifying pathogens and viruses, even if they’re asymptomatic.

He said every sample of wastewater collected can better predict an uptick in coronavirus cases.

“We have this tool called the sewer sentinel and its going to give us advance notice of when there’s an outbreak that could occur in buildings, particularly when you have groups of people living together,” Grumbles said.

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For the latest information on coronavirus go to the Maryland Health Department’s website or call 211. You can find all of WJZ’s coverage on coronavirus in Maryland here.

Kelsey Kushner