LEONARDTOWN, Md. – The St. Mary’s County Health Department (SMCHD) is now sending local wastewater samples for genomic analysis to identify the local presence of COVID-19 virus variants. The samples are already collected for ongoing COVID-19 wastewater surveillance as part of a collaborative initiative launched in May 2020 by SMCHD, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and the St. Mary’s County Metropolitan Commission. This new step of genomic analysis will assist in detecting the presence of emerging variants of the COVID-19 virus in our community. Results of ongoing monitoring related to this effort will be posted when available at: www.smchd.org/covid-19-wastewater.

Wastewater samples are being collected from several private, public and municipal wastewater treatment plants throughout St. Mary’s County. Viral particles are shed by individuals who have COVID-19 and can be detected in sewage. Testing sewage (“wastewater”) allows public health officials to detect the virus in communities served by these sewer systems, and may be an early indicator of a future rise in local COVID-19 cases.

“Genomic analysis of wastewater for COVID-19 variants is another way for local public health to monitor for the emergence of these concerning variant viruses,” said Dr. Meena Brewster, St. Mary’s County Health Officer. “This will complement the state health department’s efforts to detect variant viruses from a sampling of the COVID nasal swab tests conducted in Maryland. Early identification and tracking of variant viruses circulating in our community will help us prepare our community members and health care resources for the challenges these variants may pose.”

For more information about the St. Mary’s County COVID-19 wastewater surveillance project, please visit www.smchd.org/covid-19-wastewater.

For more information about COVID-19, please visit www.smchd.org/coronavirus or call SMCHD at (301) 475-4330.