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Record levels of COVID found in sewage at Colorado treatment plant

South Platte Renew processes raw sewage from Englewood and Littleton. Data shows the highest levels of COVID in the sewage since the beginning of the pandemic.

ENGLEWOOD, Colorado — South Platte Renew is a wastewater treatment plant that processes raw sewage from Englewood and Littleton. It is the third-largest wastewater treatment plant in Colorado. 

The team has been collecting samples to test for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. The plant participates in two sampling programs. One is based in Colorado, and the other is a national program. 

New data shows a huge spike in the COVID concentration in raw sewage, a figure that is almost double right now compared to numbers last winter. 

Credit: South Platte Renew
Normalized COVID virus concentration over time in South Platte Renew sewage

"It’s been interesting over the past couple of months because there has been more volatility to the numbers. So it would go up one week, and then it would go down one week," site director Pieter Van Ry said. "It was getting very spiky with the numbers coming back."

CDPHE said because of the current level of transmission in the community, they expect to find SARS-COV-2 in all wastewater samples analyzed. The wastewater surveillance tool allows researchers and epidemiologists to capture information about infected individuals who are asymptomatic or who may not seek testing. 

CDPHE said just under half of COVID-19 cases, including those who do not have symptoms, are believed to shed SARS-COV-2 in their stool. 

The record high levels of COVID in raw sewage do not align with current case positivity rates. CDPHE said the information sheds some light on asymptomatic individuals and trends within the community. 

"I think it’s a good data point for a full suite of information provided with hospitalization rate, positivity rate and wastewater loading," Van Ry said. "When you take all of those pieces of information, that’s what helps health professionals make better decisions in terms of how to respond."

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