PUEBLO — In Pueblo, city leaders are hoping wastewater testing combined with a new alert system will help their communities to better control the spread of COVID-19 as we head into the new year.
Testing for COVID-19 in our wastewater is a concept city leaders in Pueblo have been looking at for months. Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar says the city's testing and alert system rollout to help warn people about the presence of the virus in the wastewater in their neighborhoods will be one of the first efforts like it in the state.
It may sound gross, but scientists say by testing what we flush down the toilet they are able to identify areas of town that have an uptick in coronavirus cases 5 to 7 days before symptoms start to show up. Water Research Foundation CEO Peter Grevatt says it's a tool now being used globally.
"This is the type of tool that can help us to get an advance warning of an infection coming back into a community," said Grevatt.
And that's exactly why Pueblo's mayor says city leaders plan to put out an alert if the virus starts to show up.
When extreme levels of the COVID-19 virus are found in one of the Department of Wastewater seven basins, the City of Pueblo will initiate a COVID-19 alert to inform residents in that neighborhood. You can expect a recorded voice message and text message with the warning.
"We're hoping that this early system will allow them to isolate, be careful, and stay away from other people earlier than they otherwise would have. They might wait until they get sick to get a test and by the time they've done that who knows how many people they've infected," said Gradisar.
For a COVID-19 alert to go out, virus levels must show three consecutive tests with a significant increase or two tests with large increases. The samples from Pueblo’s wastewater typically provides a 7-day outlook correlating to the growth or decline of case counts.
"We'll try it and see whether it drives people to the testing site when that spike occurs and whether it helps us limit the number of cases that we see in Pueblo," said Gradisar.
If necessary, Pueblo's early alerts will be going out starting after the first of the year and Pueblo's mayor says the city will be using the reverse 911 system through the police department to put out those COVID-19 alerts and text messages.
The effort is meant to encourage more Puebloans to get tested so individuals before there are spikes of the virus which will give public health officials information on how the virus is moving through the community.