PAWSD participating in COVID-19 wastewater monitoring

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By Randi Pierce | Staff Writer

Archuleta County wastewater processed by the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) is now being tested as a part of Colorado’s COVID-19 Wastewater Monitoring Project.

“The state is collaborating with labs and wastewater utilities statewide to test for COVID-19 virus particles in wastewater,” a state website on the project explains. “The virus can appear in stool before someone shows any symptoms. People who don’t show symptoms also can shed the virus. Testing wastewater can give health officials early warnings about increases or decreases in COVID-19 cases within a community.”

That information, the website explains, can allow for increased resource capacity in the community if there is an increase in cases, the ability to re-evaluate local public health policy if there is a change in case rate, and help identify the presence of variants of concern.

According to Joseth Hewitt, PAWSD wastewater ORC, the district took the first sample for the program on April 4.

He explained PAWSD is taking composite samples for the program twice weekly — on Mondays and Thursdays — which are then bottled up and sent to the state via courier.

A composite sample, he explained, consists of taking a specific measurement every 15 minutes for 24 hours.

A question-and-answer document about the COVID-19 Wastewater Monitoring Project explains that samples are tested for SARS-CoV-2 RNA — a genetic material inside the virus. 

“RNA can be detected by very sensitive tests called polymerase chain reaction tests, or PCR. Wastewater testing can distinguish whether the RNA is from the SARS-CoV-2 virus or different sources like bacteria,” it states.

The document later explains that both state and local public health departments use the wastewater data, as well as other surveillance data (such as case data and hospitalization data) to evaluate trends and inform public health response.

On Monday, PAWSD Manager Justin Ramsey noted PAWSD has not received any response from the state regarding results of the samples.

As of Wednesday, the local utility was not yet included on the state’s data Web page.

San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) Communications Director and COVID-19 Public Information Officer Megan Graham indicated  recently that the availability of at-home tests and a decrease in reported test results are reasons wastewater monitoring is so effective.

People who take at-home tests are also encouraged to report their results to the state or SJBPH, she noted.

More information on COVID wastewater monitoring can be found at: https://covid19.colorado.gov/covid-19-monitoring-in-wastewater.

COVID-19 local numbers

As of Monday, SJBPH’s COVID-19 data dashboard showed that Archuleta County has had 2,900 cumulative confirmed cases of COVID-19 since March 2020.

Archuleta County, per the dashboard, had a one-week positivity rate of 5 percent and a one-week cumulative incidence rate of 37.40 new cases per 100,000 people as of Monday.

Archuleta County has had 15 deaths among COVID cases.

The data dashboard also notes that, beginning April 18, it will only be updated on Mondays and Wednesdays, and will not be updated on holidays.

Graham reported that BA.2 — the Omicron subvariant — is increasing across the state and has been confirmed in the region.

But, she noted, hospitalizations are a key element, and public health officials are not seeing elevations in the numbers of people hospitalized — something she called an “encouraging sign.”

She also noted that BA.2 doesn’t seem to be producing reactions that are as strong as previous variants.

SJBPH offering
COVID vaccines

SJBPH recently announced it is now offering in-house COVID-19 vaccinations in both of its offices — in Pagosa Springs and Durango — in addition to its more broad vaccination clinics.

Graham noted that appointments are strongly encouraged and can be made by calling (970) 335-6128.

For more on the vaccines, eligibility and a list of vaccine providers, visit: https://sjbpublichealth.org/covid-19-vaccine/.

SJBPH is all still offering masks and at-home test kits at its offices.

randi@pagosasun.com