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COVID In Colorado: State Health Experts Using Wastewater To Detect Omicron Variant

DENVER (CBS4) - With confirmed cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant growing around the world, Colorado health officials are ramping up the state's early detection methods. That includes wastewater monitoring.

Susan De Long at Colorado State University helped launch the state's surveillance program.

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"We are able to capture people who are never symptomatic. We are able to comprehensively track the level of disease in a community even for people who will never go to the doctor and get a test," she said.

Working with more than 20 wastewater utilities across the state, taking two samples every week that are sent to the state lab for sequencing, they've been able to track COVID-19's spread, in some cases before it happens.

"Data has shown that wastewater signals can spike for two to ten days before an outbreak or at least before hospitalizations might peak so it gives us that early warning," De Long said.

State health officials say along with wastewater surveillance, they'll also be monitoring clinical tests and with more information on what to look for, sequencing those samples will help identify the latest variants presence in Colorado.

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"We are fortunate that this technology is nimble, and the state lab has already updated protocols to detect the genetic markers that are indictive of the omicron variant."

De Long says the state's plan for early detection is strong.

"Having the wastewater which is a broad monitoring strategy and captures the largest number of people and then paring that with clinical testing and monitoring and putting these strategies together is really, it's going to keep us safe," she said.

You can see the data collected from the wastewater monitoring program on the state health department's website.

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