New Mexico touts sewage monitoring program in COVID-19 fight

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A wastewater monitoring program launched last month has helped to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak at a juvenile justice facility in southern New Mexico, according to state officials.

The New Mexico Environment Department said the virus was detected in wastewater samples taken from the state-run facility in Las Cruces in late December.

After testing more than 100 people, they were able to determine that an asymptomatic positive individual was working in the facility. That person was isolated and subsequent wastewater samples did not detect the virus, indicating an outbreak was prevented among the young people and staff at the facility.

Sixteen federal, state and local correctional facilities are enrolled in the program. Twice a week, the Environment Department collects sewage samples at the facilities and analyzes them for COVID-19 gene markers.

The Environment Department is posting the sampling data on its website.

Officials plan to expand the effort as funding allows.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases in New Mexico were approached 158,000 as an additional 893 cases were reported Tuesday by state health officials. That included nearly two dozen inmates at correctional facilities around the state who tested positive.

State health officials also reported another 30 deaths, bringing the statewide tally to nearly 2,800 since the pandemic began.