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Coronavirus

Fewer COVID cases are being reported, but more of the virus is being found in Denver-area sewage

A Colorado researcher says the situation may indicate vaccinated people are catching the virus but not feeling sick enough to get tested

Peter West, operator at South Platte Water Renewal Partners stands atop a clarifier where he takes his sludge judge to measure solids at the bottom of the settling tank on May 12, 2020. The South Platte Water Renewal Partners are participating in a sewage study in an attempt to determine how much of the population is infected with the coronavirus. The utility serves Englewood, Littleton and 21 smaller sewage systems. (John Leyba, Special to The Colorado Sun)

This story first appeared in a Colorado Community Media newspaper. The Colorado Sun is an owner of CCM.

Testing of wastewater at the Englewood-Littleton sewage plant is finding record-high signs of COVID prevalence in the south Denver metro populace, though the number of people receiving positive COVID tests has dropped.

A Colorado researcher says the situation may indicate vaccinated people are catching the virus but not feeling sick enough to get tested.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, South Platte Renew, a wastewater treatment plant in Englewood that is the third largest in Colorado, has been on the front lines of helping health officials make sense of the state of the virus.  The plant serves people in Arapahoe, Douglas and Jefferson counties

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The plant collects daily samples of sewage produced by about 300,000 people, according to Pieter Van Ry, the site’s director. Samples are sent to various labs both in-state and outside Colorado that test for the virus’s genome, an indicator of how prevalent COVID may be in a given community. 

In recent weeks, tests have shown higher amounts of COVID being detected in South Platte’s wastewater than at any other point of the pandemic. But reported cases for the area are down by about half their record peak from last winter.

About 50% of people who catch COVID will “shed (the) COVID virus in their stool,” regardless if they have symptoms, according to Rachel Jervis, an epidemiologist at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. That means wastewater surveillance can be an early indicator for how much the virus is spreading in an area. 

Read more at coloradocommunitymedia.com.