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Colorado health officials begin COVID-19 wastewater testing

CDPHE said testing wastewater can give health officials early warnings about increases or decreases in COVID-19 cases within a community.

DENVER — The Colorado State Joint Information Center discussed COVID-19 wastewater testing on Wednesday and the potential for it to complement public health decision-making in the coming months. 

The state has been looking to use the latest lab technology to test for COVID-19 virus particles in wastewater as the coronavirus can appear in poop before someone shows any symptoms, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). People who don’t show symptoms also can shed the virus. 

“The reason we’re doing this program is to provide another tool in the toolbox of our epistemologists that will provide a signal of possible outbreaks four to six days earlier than we’d otherwise get this information," CDPHE Director of Environmental Programs John Putnam said.

Officials with CDPHE, Colorado State University (CSU), Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver) and Metro Wastewater Reclamation spoke on the topic during a remote media briefing Wednesday morning. You can watch the full update below. 

Using federal and state funding and in-kind resources, the state has been working to set up agreements with 16 wastewater utilities, as well as CSU and MSU Denver, to track the COVID-19 virus particles in wastewater.

Those utility companies, according to state health officials, are located from Fort Collins to Pueblo and make up 60-65% of Colorado’s population. 

Samples will be collected at each location two times per week, and then sent to a CSU lab for analysis.

Testing wastewater can give health officials early warnings about increases or decreases in COVID-19 cases within a community. CDPHE said it won’t have usable data for several months, but once they do, it’ll be another indicator used to help guide public health policies.

“While we are still learning about how the virus is shed, we believe this innovative project will help us see trends on a community-wide scale. With a virus like this, we need multiple sources of data to help keep it contained,” CDPHE Respiratory Disease/COVID Surveillance Program Manager Nisha Alden said. 

Information from the testing will be also be used to track virus trends and increase resource response to an area if there is an increase in cases. If all goes as planned, the state said will publish results several months from now, making the information available to the public.

Arizona and Utah have also utilized COVID-19 wastewater testing to help inform public health policy. CDPHE said the cost of the program is about $520,000.

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