Scientists looking at wastewater to monitor COVID cases in Colorado

Coronavirus

DENVER (KDVR) – The COVID-19 virus is detectable in wastewater, according to scientists who are now using a pilot project to help understand how prevalent COVID-19 is in Colorado.

The state is collaborating with scientists from Colorado State University, Metropolitan State University, GT Molecular, and Colorado wastewater utilities, to monitor levels of COVID-19 virus particles found in wastewater.

“Wastewater-based epidemiology is taking off across the entire nation,” said Dr. Rose Nash, GT Molecular’s director of research and development. “But something that’s really special about what we’ve built in Colorado, is that it’s rapid and that it’s ultra-sensitive.”

Scientists using the test developed here get the results of the wastewater tests in about 24 hours. Those tests concentrate the coronavirus, while also testing the wastewater to compare the results with how much human waste is present.

“As a scientist, I look at this data and ask – can we tell if this works? Does monitoring wastewater for a virus work? It’s kind of crazy that works…the resounding answer is yes,” Nash said.

Studies have shown that individuals who develop COVID-19 have detectable virus particles in their stool before, during, and after their infection. By measuring the quantity of these particles found in wastewater, scientists hope to get a better idea of how many people in Colorado have the virus, including those who do not have symptoms and have not been tested.

Wastewater utilities collect wastewater samples at their treatment plants and send them to the partner labs. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and local public health epidemiologists then analyze the results.

The state is looking for either upward or downward trends in the rate of infection.

“We love data, and we look forward to more of it so we can better determine if this is a useful tool in fighting this pandemic,” said Nicole Rowan, clean water program manager for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, in a statement. “We are so grateful for the many partners involved in collecting and organizing this important information.”

Preliminary data for the wastewater and COVID-19 monitoring pilot project is now available on the state’s COVID-19 website

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