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All five of Summit County’s wastewater treatment plants are testing for COVID-19 to help monitor the virus’ presence in the community

Jason Kruckeberg, operations superintendent for the Silverthorne Dillon Joint Sewer Authority, demonstrates how to test for the virus that causes COVID-19 on March 18. All five of Summit County’s wastewater treatment plants are testing for the virus as part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Wastewater Surveillance System.
Tripp Fay/For the Summit Daily News

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched its National Wastewater Surveillance System in the fall of 2020 to help communities detect early warning signs about the prevalence of COVID-19. Over the past couple of years, the program has continued to expand, and now all five of Summit County’s wastewater treatment plants are participating in the free program.

According to the CDC’s websitepeople infected with the virus shed it in their feces, even if they don’t have symptoms. This means that wastewater can be tested for the virus to help determine how much of a risk it poses at any given moment. Though test samples cannot be correlated back to case rates, Summit County Public Health Director Amy Wineland said this new tool helps keep community leaders informed about the virus’ current threat.

“With this information, we can either increase resource capacity in the community. If we’re seeing a huge increase in the wastewater, we can reevaluate local public health policies, we can use it to track virus trends across communities and identify variants quickly because it can be tweaked depending on what variants are circulating at the time,” Wineland said.



Case in point: Wineland said two of the participating wastewater treatment plants tested positive for the omicron sub-variant. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that variant accounts for nearly a quarter of COVID-19 cases across the country. Wineland said this is raising her interest but that it’s unlikely the county would implement any kind of orders or restrictive measures in the future.

“We’ll be putting information out when we’re worried about our levels increasing and when we might recommend people possibly mask again on their own,” Wineland said. “We’re not looking to put orders in place again. We’re at a point where we really want to empower individuals to make the decisions they need to make to keep themselves and their families safe and healthy.”



The Silverthorne Dillon Joint Sewer Authority, the Snake River Wastewater Treatment Plant, the Upper Blue Sanitation District, the Frisco Sanitation District and the Copper Mountain Consolidated Metropolitan District have all signed up to participate in the program.

Wineland said the omicron sub-variant was detected at the Frisco Sanitation District and the Silverthorne Dillon Joint Sewer Authority. There hasn’t been a spike in cases yet, though the county’s case rates did tick upward slightly when compared to weeks recent. Even still , Wineland said she wouldn’t be surprised if these wastewater treatments plants and case rates started showing a higher level of the virus due to the number of visitors that have passed through the county this month.

“So far, we haven’t seen a spike in cases yet, but it’s possible,” Wineland said. “We know, too, that we’re a global destination. In Summit County, we’re experiencing a bunch of visitors right now, so it’s not a surprise that we will start to see (sub-variants) across the nation.”

Wineland said although the county doesn’t have any restrictions in place and that case rates are currently low, the pandemic shouldn’t be considered “over.” Instead, this kind of tool will help leaders track the virus and inform community members about the extra safety precautions they should be taking if the virus becomes a threat again.

Jason Kruckeberg, operations superintendent for the Silverthorne Dillon Joint Sewer Authority, said his team already had all of the necessary equipment to participate in the program. His team collects the samples so that a courier can pick them up and take them to a lab on the Front Range.

Kruckeberg noted that besides testing for the virus that causes COVID-19, this kind of testing can be used to detect other risks in the community such as communicable diseases or illicit drug use.

“It’s got further applications, possibly pretty wide,” he said. “One of the reasons why you want to do this is because if you sample often enough, you can maybe get an early indicator of an increase in cases in your region rather proactively whereas going in and testing is usually a reactive event.”

Wineland said all of the wastewater treatment plants are testing twice a week for the virus and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Jason Kruckeberg, operations superintendent for the Silverthorne Dillon Joint Sewer Authority, handles some of the equipment used to test for the virus that causes COVID-19. Kruckeberg said that wastewater treatment plants can also be tested for illicit drug use and other communicable viruses.
Tripp Fay/For the Summit Daily News

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