Wastewater can show the presence and spread of COVID-19 in a community

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DENVER — A new testing method that looks at wastewater from municipal sewer systems is helping researchers determine the spread of coronavirus in a community.

“It turns out that wastewater is a great source of information about things that are happening in a community in terms of health in the community,” Water Research Foundation CEO Peter Grevatt said.

The Water Research Foundation recently held a virtual summit with people from across the globe to discuss wastewater and COVID-19.

“All across the world, it’s been remarkable to see how many groups of launch project monitoring wastewater for the genetic fingerprint of COVID-19,” Grevatt said. “To be clear, it’s not actually the virus, but its fingerprint. That fingerprint can show how much the virus is spreading in your community.”

Among those at the virtual global summit was a representative from the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District, the wastewater treatment authority for most of metro Denver.

“They presented on some of the work they’re doing to collect samples, and they are, in fact, working with the local health department to see how this information can be used,” Grevatt said.

Metro Wastewater Reclamation District said they are participating in a study, but declined to comment further.

This isn’t the first time wastewater has been used to help track virus data. Gunnison County, which has been hard-hit by the outbreak, recently began testing wastewater at its facilities.

“How are the cases going to change? And what about another wave in the fall, which we’ve heard so many people talk about. This is the type of tool that can help us to get an advance warning of an infection coming back into a community,” Grevatt said.