COVID-19 surveillance in wastewater

The state is looking to use the latest lab technology to test for COVID-19 virus particles in wastewater. The virus can appear in poop before someone shows any symptoms. People who don’t show symptoms also can shed the virus. Testing wastewater can give health officials early warnings about increases or decreases in COVID-19 cases within a community. With this information, health officials can:

  • Increase resource capacity in the community if there is an increase in cases. 
  • Re-evaluate closure and social distancing measures if there is a decrease in cases.
  • Use information to track virus trends across communities.

Using federal and state funding and in-kind resources, the state currently is working to set up agreements with 16 wastewater utilities, and Colorado State and Metro State universities, to track the COVID-19 virus particles in wastewater. 

Wastewater surveillance diagram shows the sampling location right before entering the treatment process.

Frequently asked questions

We are aware other states, including Massachusetts, Virginia, Arizona, and Utah, are exploring this idea and are in various stages of implementation. Some states and countries in Europe have found wastewater surveillance can possibly provide early warnings of a COVID-19 outbreak or downward trends. 

  • The state is looking to partner with 16 utilities, which represent 60-65% of Colorado’s population, and Colorado State and Metro State universities.
  • The 16 utilities are:
    • Aurora Sand Creek Water Reuse Facility
    • Boulder Water Resource Recovery Facility
    • City of Broomfield Wastewater Treatment Plant
    • Colorado Springs Utilities Recovery Facility (two facilities)
    • Metro Wastewater Reclamation District (two facilities)
    • City and County of Denver
    • South Adams County Water and Sanitation District
    • South Platte Renewal Partners 
    • Estes Park Sanitation District 
    • Upper Thompson Sanitation District (Estes Park)
    • Boxelder Sanitation District  (Larimer and Weld County)
    • City of Fort Collins Water Reclamation (three facilities)
    • South Fort Collins Sanitation District (Larimer and Weld counties)
    • City of Longmont Wastewater Treatment Plant
    • City of Louisville Wastewater Treatment Plant
    • Pueblo Water Reclamation Facility

Once we launch the program, we need enough results generated over a period of time, from the same locations, to establish trends. This could take several or more months of weekly sampling.  

With the 16 entities, we are at capacity with both funding and at the labs. The first step is to work with these partners to get lab capacity, protocols, and other infrastructure in place. In the future, we hope to have a platform for more reasonably priced and coordinated testing for other Colorado utilities as well as additional lab capacity.

The $520,000, is comprised of both Federal CARES act and state funding. Participating entities will provide in-kind services.