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New Mexico begins sewage testing for COVID at prisons

December 9, 2020 GMT

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico has begun monitoring sewage from prisons and youth rehabilitation facilities to more efficiently detect COVID-19 outbreaks in the southwest of the state, the state Environment Department announced Wednesday.

The agency says the goal is to sample human feces in group-living situations to quickly identify coronavirus outbreaks. The results may be used to more effectively deploy individual testing to pinpoint infections and halt the spread.

Sampling will take place at federal, state and local jails, along with facilities overseen by the state Children, Youth and Families Department. A list of individual facilities was not immediately available.

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Environment Department spokeswoman Maddy Hayden said the initial effort comes at a cost of about $300,000, utilizing federal relief funds. Lexington, Massachusetts-based ERG was contracted to perform the sewage testing.

The southwest region was selected for the initial phase of testing because of high positivity rates along with limited access to testing.

New Mexico on Wednesday reported an additional 1,759 COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total to nearly 113,000 since the pandemic began. An additional 34 deaths also were reported, including a McKinley County woman in her 30s who had underlying conditions.