Wastewater Monitoring

In a continued effort to reduce the level of COVID-19 transmissions in our community, the Denver Department of Public Health & Environment (DDPHE) is partnering with the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) and Denver Department of Transportation and Infrastructure to conduct a pilot program that will test wastewater at various locations around the city, including long-term care facilities, shelters for people experiencing homelessness, elementary schools, and in some neighborhoods. The goal of this project is to better understand levels of community transmission of COVID-19; it does not indicate there is higher COVID-19 transmission in or near the participating locations. The initial phase of the pilot program will take place between March and June.  

Wastewater monitoring is a reliable and proven indicator used throughout the pandemic to predict transmission trends. The virus can appear in stool before someone shows any symptoms. People who don’t show symptoms can also shed the virus. Testing wastewater can give health officials early warnings about increases or decreases in COVID-19 cases within a community. View the latest wastewater sample data and learn more about CDPHE’s testing program on their website.

What is the wastewater monitoring pilot?

Since August 2020, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has conducted COVID-19 wastewater monitoring of public sewers. CDPHE, in collaboration with the University of Denver (DU) has partnered with local public health agencies including the Denver Department of Public Health & Environment (DDPHE), and wastewater utilities in Colorado to conduct a year-long pilot project. This project will involve monitoring wastewater to identify viral hotspots and reduce community transmission of COVID-19.

What is being measured in this project?

In this collaboration with scientists from DU, state and local public health departments will monitor levels of COVID-19 virus particles, also called SARS-CoV-2 RNA, found in wastewater. Scientists can determine how much RNA from the COVID-19 virus there is compared to other particles in wastewater.

What is SARS-CoV-2 RNA?

SARS-CoV-2 is the virus which causes COVID-19. RNA is genetic material (similar to DNA) inside the virus. RNA can be detected by very sensitive tests called polymerase chain reaction tests, or PCR. Wastewater testing can distinguish whether the RNA is from the SARS-CoV-2 virus or different sources like bacteria.

Why are SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentrations being tested in wastewater?

Studies have shown that individuals who develop COVID-19 have detectable SARS-CoV-2 RNA in their stool before, during, and after their infection. By measuring the quantity of this RNA found in wastewater, we hope to improve our understanding of the number of individuals affected by COVID-19, including individuals who do not have symptoms or do not get tested. Positive wastewater samples with SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentrations can be identified 4-7 days prior to COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. This provides state and local public health partners an opportunity to respond rapidly to potential outbreaks and continue to support the health of our community.

How do state and local public health use this data?

Both state and local public health departments use the wastewater data to evaluate trends to inform public health response. Interpreting these trends allows us to assess the risk of COVID-19 in communities and adjust public health response to provide appropriate resources. Eventually, data could be used to spot other pathogens such as antibiotic resistance, foodborne infections, like E. Coli, salmonella, and norovirus influenza to name a few.

How often are samples collected?

Samples are collected by public health professionals from DDPHE one to two times per week; however, more samples can be collected if necessary.

Will schools be asked to implement new COVID-19 prevention strategies?

No, the goal of this project is only to better understand levels of community transmission of COVID-19. Schools will not be required to implement any new prevention strategies based on wastewater testing.

Where are samples collected?

Samples will be taken from sewage access points or manholes. During sampling, you may see people in personal protective equipment (PPE) on or near campus. 

Will samples be tested for any other diseases?

No, the pilot will only test for COVID-19. In addition, the samples taken are aggregate collections and therefore impossible to identify individual DNA through the sampling.

When will the pilot take place?

The current timeline for the pilot is March through June 2023.

Will this project be published?

It's possible. If this pilot is successful, leading partners may choose to publish the findings.




Additional Information