Pueblo Lifts Curfew And Shifts To Wastewater Coronavirus Detection As Pandemic Enters A New Year

Brett Mach/for CPR News
Some of the flags that fly along the Union Avenue Bridge that crosses over the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk in Pueblo, Colorado, March 16, 2020.

Residents of Pueblo could soon be getting reverse 9-1-1 calls and texts notifying them of elevated levels of coronavirus detected in wastewater.

The new program comes as the city's curfew, which has been in place since October, expires early New Year's Day.

"Fortunately, we've seen a downward trend in our COVID case numbers in the city of Pueblo over the last couple of weeks, and I'm hoping that trend will continue," Mayor Nick Gradisar said. "If we see some different activity, I certainly reserve the right to reimpose the curfew."

Gradisar says information from the state based on cell phone data shows once the 10 p.m. - 5 a.m. curfew was initiated, residents weren't moving around as much when compared to data from other communities along the Front Range.

"I think it's been successful. Certainly it's not the silver bullet that will help control the virus," Gradisar said. "But I think it's just one of the tools that's been effective in helping us get these cases going in the right direction."

The city has issued more than 70 citations in violation of the curfew, mostly in relation to other infractions.

As the curfew expires, the city is preparing to issue notifications to residents based on the testing of wastewater. Gradisar said it's meant to encourage residents to take extra precautions and get tested for coronavirus.

Wastewater testing has shown to be effective in predicting outbreaks. According to the state, the utilities participating in wastewater testing for COVID-19 serve more than half of Colorado's population.

In Pueblo, the wastewater system is divided into seven basins. When any of them show elevated levels of the virus for at least two consecutive tests, an alert in the form of a text message or recorded voice message will be sent out to residents of the affected area.  

"Hopefully that will give us some early warning of COVID in the area and will allow residents to take measures necessary to protect themselves," Gradisar said.

Randy Evetts, director of the Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment, said earlier this week the two-week average number of known new cases in Pueblo County has fallen after a high of 240 per day at the end of November. That number is now about 73, compared to eight at the end of September.

"We really need to continue to work together as a community to bring our numbers down so that we can get back to those levels we were at the end of the summer," Evetts said.

More than 300 people in Pueblo County have died as a result of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, more than half of which occurred in December.

On New Year's Eve, Gradisar asked churches in the city to ring their bells at noon for a moment of remembrance for those who have died.