DENVER (KDVR) — This fall, the state will try something new in the battle against COVID-19. It plans to test wastewater samples from specific public school buildings, hoping to give school and public health leaders one more point of information to help them make safety decisions.

COVID can be found in stool, even if a person is asymptomatic.

Right now, 53 Colorado utilities are already drawing samples from wastewater for COVID testing twice a week. Those are used by the state lab to determine the amount of COVID and what variants are present in a community at large.

College dorms in the state are using a similar process. Now the state is starting a pilot program with schools.

“Rather than have information about an entire community served by a sewer shed, we can have that information about a building worth of people,” said Rachel Jervis, an epidemiologist with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Getting this information has benefits, but there are challenges.

“We need to learn how to interpret that data, what we do with those results, and so what we plan to do is have an internal, private dashboard that our school partners and our local public health agencies can see this data in close to real time. And then the reality is, we are going to have discussions about, OK, what does this mean for us?” Jervis said.

The goal is that school and public health leaders can use the information, along with other tools. 

“It’s really important to us that the data we get from that is actionable,” Jervis said.

The state applied for funding from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the pilot program and will hire one person to coordinate.

Several schools have already expressed interest, but more can sign up. Schools that are interested can email cdphe_wastewater_surv@state.co.us.