Monitoring Detects Low Levels of COVID Virus in Orono Wastewater

Joint Release:  Town of Orono and the University of Maine System

Confirming concerns about rising community spread in Maine, monitoring by University of Maine System Scientific Advisory Board gets first detection of SARS-CoV-2 in samples taken from the Orono Water Pollution Control Facility

Orono, Maine — The University of Maine System’s multifaceted approach to identifying COVID-19 infection and limiting spread on university campuses and in Maine communities includes weekly wastewater sampling for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 at UMaine, UMFK, and the Gorham campus of USM. Those results, which have all been negative since testing began in August, are updated on the dashboard and in daily briefings reported to the media. 

The University of Maine System Scientific Advisory Board chaired by UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy oversees the collection and analysis of samples. Professor Jean MacRae, PhD, Civil and Environmental Engineering, helped establish a partnership between the University of Maine and the Town of Orono to test its wastewater for the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus genome. 

Wastewater is collected at the treatment plant and tested at the University of Maine. Tests of the combined Orono wastewater stream for the first two weeks were negative. Testing on Oct. 28 indicated a low but clearly detectable level of virus in the wastewater. This could indicate that there was a rise in COVID-19 prevalence in the community. 

Testing two days later on Oct. 30 indicated that levels remain in the low to nondetectable range, suggesting that the increased level has resolved back to the baseline. These sample points provide a way to monitor the situation in a particular community, and serve as a reminder that the virus is present and community members should be vigilant about avoiding gatherings, ensuring physical distancing, wearing face coverings, and practicing good hand hygiene to protect themselves and one another.

Test Results at Orono Water Pollution Control Facility

10/14/2020 Negative

10/21/2020 Negative

10/28/2020 7600 vE/L (viral equivalents/Liter)

10/30/2020 Negative

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports community spread is on the rise in Maine. The findings in Orono align with that finding as wastewater testing has been shown in several studies to be an early indicator of changes in infection prevalence, due to its ability to detect infections even before they are symptomatic. 

UMaine wastewater is a part of the stream leading to the Orono Water Pollution Control Facility.  The wastewater analysis for UMaine, UMFK, and USM-Gorham were again negative for the presence of the virus for the Oct. 26–27 sampling. As referenced above, the sample taken Oct. 30 from the Orono WPCF was also negative.

“In the Town of Orono, we are committed to providing our citizens and guests with the resources and information they need to safely live and work in our community,” said Sophie Wilson, Orono Town Manager.  “Cases of infection are growing throughout Maine and detecting the presence of the virus in our wastewater serves as a reminder that we must all do our part to limit the spread of the disease.”  

The Town of Orono enacted an emergency face covering ordinance in August, and maintains a website with news and information at this link.  

“We are fortunate to be able to partner with the Town of Orono to conduct this testing as a means of monitoring changes in the pattern of COVID-19 in our community,” said UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy. “We have had a safe return this fall because our students, faculty and staff pledged themselves to our Black Bears Care public health campaign, and have helped lead our efforts to keep our campus and our community safe.”   

The University of Maine is reporting one known active case of COVID-19 and public health authority isolation in today’s University of Maine System Together for Maine update.