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DENVER (KDVR) — The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment provided an update on COVID-19 in our state on Tuesday, as local doctors told FOX31 they believe the newly-identified omicron variant could be in the state soon.

This comes as some COVID-19 metrics are dropping in Colorado, but positivity rates remain high across the state compared to the rest of the country.

Dr. Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist, Rachel Jervis, epidemiologist and Emily Travanty, state lab director addressed how they’re using wastewater to determine COVID-19 transmissibility in the community, and how that impacts genome testing for variants.

“In Colorado, we have three different ways in which we are currently on the lookout for this variant,” Travanty said. “The first is diagnostic testing, followed by genetic sequencing. Then there’s one last method. Wastewater sequence surveillance: this allows us to look through genetic markers indicative of variants within wastewater. Variants can be detected through wastewater sooner than through clinical samples and the state lab has recently updated our processes and can now detect these markers.” 

The state’s been partnering with 21 wastewater utilities and Colorado State University since August of last year, looking at two samples from each utility per week to find out what’s going on with COVID in our community.

“Wastewater monitoring is a COVID-19 early warning system. We’ve learned that almost 50% of people who have COVID will shed some virus in their stool regardless of whether or not they have symptoms,” said Jervis.

The state said that’s how delta was first found in Colorado and now they are looking for omicron this way too. The health leaders said it gives them a better view of what’s going on.

“When we’re sequencing at a clinical sample, we’re looking at just the virus that’s present in one single patient whereas, with wastewater, we’re looking at a pooled sample containing virus from multiple people, all in the same sample. This allows us to get a snapshot view of what might be circulating in a whole community,” Travanty said.

Cases are slowly coming down around the state but Herlihy said this could just be due to a lag in testing and data reporting because of the holiday last week. The doctors said reinfection is a possibility they worry about with omicron.