BOULDER, Colo. (KDVR) — For the first time, Colorado’s wastewater testing system detected levels of the omicron variant in a community.
According to Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment State Epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy, there are only two confirmed omicron cases in the state. Both had a history of international travel.
“I would imagine at this point there are more than two cases but at this point, we treat it the same way,” Dr. Eric Lung, the chief medical officer at Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree said. “Does that mean it’s more widespread than originally thought? I can only speculate.”
But, there are indications the variant is spreading.
“For the first time, our wastewater surveillance system has picked up some of the signature mutations of the omicron variant,” Herlihy said at a press conference Tuesday. “That detection occurred in Boulder’s municipal wastewater system.”
Herlihy said the state does not believe there is more transmission of omicron happening in Colorado compared to anywhere else in the country, but pointed to the state’s robust surveillance system as one of the best in the country.
“If it’s detected in wastewater, it’s ‘how did it get there? And how many people will be exposed to it?’” Lung said.
CDPHE doesn’t know how many cases the detection in the Boulder wastewater system represents. Leaders believe it’s likely more than one case and likely “some low-level of community transmission,” according to Herlihy.
“Our recommendation to Boulder residents and to all Coloradans is to keep doing the things you have been doing,” Herlihy said. “Get vaccinated, get boosted, wear a mask.”
In Colorado, the wastewater utilities are providing samples of the wastewater to the state through CSU, which includes water from houses and buildings and includes feces.
The state will not see these types of samples from every county. CDPHE said only 21 utility companies are participating right now, with Boulder being one.
The state says it is trying to get more people on board, but for now, it serves as a good partner for traditional PCR sampling.
“We see our wastewater monitoring program as a complement to our clinical surveillance. So, we really, from wastewater, don’t try to identify the individual. We use it to identify trends in a community. Now, in the future, we have plans to do building-level surveillance,” said Rachel Jervis, CDPHE Foodborne and Waterborne Disease Programs.
The state is also looking to partner with more schools and state prisons, as it continues to monitor community transmission of COVID-19 variants.
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