Wastewater Monitoring

In a continued effort to monitor the level of COVID-19 transmissions in our community, the Denver Department of Public Health & Environment is conducting wastewater testing at various locations around the city, including long-term care facilities, 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. Denver has been monitoring COVID-19 in wastewater since March 2020.

Wastewater monitoring is a reliable and proven indicator used throughout the pandemic to predict transmission trends as a 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. 

What is wastewater monitoring?

Wastewater monitoring can provide an early warning of infectious disease spread in communities, including COVID-19. People infected with SARS-CoV-2 can shed the virus in their feces, even if they don’t have symptoms. The virus can then be detected in wastewater. 

What is being measured in this project?

In collaboration with scientists from the University of Denver, state, and local public health departments are monitoring levels of COVID-19 virus particles, also called SARS-CoV-2 RNA, found in wastewater. 


What is SARS-CoV-2 RNA?

SARS-CoV-2 is the virus which causes COVID-19. Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) is genetic material (similar to DNA) inside the virus. RNA can be detected by very sensitive tests called polymerase chain reaction, 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 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 facilities 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. Facilities 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 facility grounds.  


Will samples be tested for any other diseases?

Currently, we are only testing for COVID-19 with plans to expand the scope of the program in the future. 

Can the data collected in wastewater monitoring be used to identify personal health information?

No. The samples collected represent a population rather than individuals. 

When will the project take place?

The project is currently underway and will end in April of 2024.

Want more information about wastewater testing?

For additional information about wastewater testing in Denver, email DDPHE.communications@denvergov.org

  Additional Information