The town of Yarmouth is warning residents to redouble their efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus after samples taken from its wastewater treatment system showed “a steady and accelerating increase in key indicators of the presence of COVID-19 in our community.”

The advisory, issued Saturday by the Yarmouth Community Coronavirus Task Force, said the increase has occurred over the past several weeks. The advisory was also posted on the town’s website.

“We urge everyone in our community to take extra care to reduce your risk of exposure to the coronavirus in the coming weeks,” the task force said.

Task force members said recent wastewater test results came in more than 10 times higher than the town saw a few days before Christmas. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the number of COVID-19 cases in Yarmouth has risen from seven to 21 in the last three weeks, according to the advisory.

“This rapid rise in both wastewater testing results and COVID-19 patient cases in town coupled with the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths at the state and national level suggest that Yarmouth is seeing a spike in cases that will continue to rise unless we all redouble our efforts to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our community,” the task force said.

Testing of wastewater to reveal trends in the prevalence of the virus in a community began last year at some Maine colleges as well as cities and towns across Maine, including Portland, Augusta and Yarmouth.

The city of Augusta and the Greater Augusta Utility District began using a federal grant last summer to have wastewater samples tested for the coronavirus. The data collected in Augusta could provide information on how widespread the virus is in the area’s population, and be valuable as local officials make decisions, such as when to reopen public facilities and whether to allow students to return to the classroom.

Individuals infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 shed fragments or genetic “markers” of the virus in waste. While research suggests the amount of active or live virus in feces is low, laboratories can detect and then amplify active or inactive markers as another way to detect trends before they begin showing up in the daily case counts.

“This is allowing us to get a finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the community,” Yolanda Brooks – an assistant professor of biology at Saint Joseph’s College whose team has been testing samples from the Portland Water District, Yarmouth and the campus community – told the Press Herald last year.

The Portland Water District has been collecting weekly samples from its East End wastewater treatment plant in Portland and its Westbrook-Gorham facility for COVID-19 testing since July.

Yarmouth’s task force said people can prevent the spread of the highly contagious virus by practicing social distancing, wearing a mask, staying home if not feeling well, washing hands frequently, avoiding large crowds, and getting tested if they believe they have been exposed.

“The means to reduce the risk of COVID-19 are familiar to most of us, but it is important to redouble our efforts now,” the task force reminded community members.

Any resident who is isolated or needs to stay at home to quarantine can get help by contacting Yarmouth Community Services at 846-2406 or the Yarmouth Community Coronavirus Task Force at 846-4763. Those agencies can help arrange for home grocery deliveries, provide assistance with rent relief or unemployment, or set up the delivery of sanitizing supplies or other necessities to a person’s home.


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