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What if there was a way to test a whole neighborhood for COVID-19 quickly, efficiently and without sticking a swab in anyone’s nose? There is.

Fort Collins-based GT Molecular LLC has developed a tool that’s being used in Larimer County to test wastewater for traces of the virus.

The test, which GT research and development director Rose Nash calls the county’s “first line of defense,” was created by repurposing a diagnostic tool developed for medical labs.

It provides an “early warning system for COVID-19 outbreaks” because the virus is shed from the intestines a week before symptom-onset, she said.

Testing wastewater can be more efficient than randomly testing individuals because “everyone in a catchment provides a sample in their restroom each day,” Nash said.

Nearly all wastewater treatment sites in Larimer County are performing these tests, according to Larimer County public health director Tom Gonzales.

“When we see an increase in the viral load in the water, that’s when the triggers go off, and we know there are infected individuals.”

From there, officials are able to perform targeted testing, contract tracing and isolation efforts.

“It’s really a number one key tool that we have for suppressing this virus from a public health standpoint,” he said.

In some Northern Colorado municipalities, the coronavirus outbreak has put additional strain on water infrastructure.

In May, water demand in Wellington increased 46% over the highest total ever recorded during that month, according to Wellington public works director Bob Gowing. “That trend continued throughout the summer.”

Gowing said the increased demand “can be easily attributable to more folks staying at home and changing their daily patterns.”

The increase puts strain on staff and wastewater systems, so Wellington responded by ending bulk water sales for construction purposes and limiting irrigation.

In Greeley, water use since the virus outbreak “has diverged but not greatly,” Greeley’s director of water and sewer Sean Chambers said.

Mostly, the changes in the city relate to a shift away from commercial uses and toward residential uses as more people are working from home. Any increased demand is likely more attributable to the drought than the virus, he said.

A major development over the course of the pandemic has been in the quality of wastewater treated, Chambers said.

“Fats, oils and grease were greatly reduced” as a function of restaurants being closed, he said.

© 2020 BizWest Media LLC

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