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Pueblo curfew to expire, city launches COVID-19 early alert system using wastewater data

Zach Hillstrom
The Pueblo Chieftain

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The nightly citywide curfew put in place by Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar in late October will not be extended into 2021, Gradisar announced Wednesday in a media update on the city’s response to COVID-19. 

“That curfew will expire Friday at 5 a.m. and I don’t have plans at this time to reinstitute that,” Gradisar said. 

“Fortunately we’ve seen a downward trend in our COVID case numbers in the city of Pueblo over the past couple of weeks, and I’m hoping that trend will continue.” 

Gradisar first implemented the “Home By Ten” curfew on Oct. 30 — named so because the curfew was from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. each night —  then extended it on Nov. 25 through the end of the year. 

Although the curfew is set to end, Gradisar said he reserves the right to reimpose the precautionary measure if conditions change. 

Asked about the effectiveness of the curfew, Gradisar said it's impossible to attribute its implementation to the decline in cases, but noted, “I think the curfew has helped.” 

“Certainly after the curfew was imposed there was a tremendous increase in cases and I think it would've been even more dramatic had we not limited that mobility during those hours,” Gradisar said. 

“Data we’ve gotten from (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) suggests that after the curfew was imposed, the mobility of the residents of Pueblo — based on cellphone data — was dramatically reduced compared to the mobility of other communities along the Front Range.” 

During the curfew period, more than 70 citations were issued by law enforcement, according to John Rodriguez, Gradisar’s communications director. But Gradisar said the majority of those cited were initially contacted by police for other unlawful activities. 

MORE: Has Pueblo's curfew worked? Data shows more people staying home, dozens of citations

Also in Wednesday’s briefing, Gradisar revealed a new emergency alert system that will use city wastewater data to identify spikes of COVID-19 in specific neighborhoods and alert residents they could be infected. 

“Since about August, the City of Pueblo has been testing wastewater in our seven basins, sending them to Colorado State University and getting results back,” Gradisar said. 

“And we’ve determined that there’s a pretty good correlation between increases in the RNA of COVID-19 that’s found in wastewater to increases in COVID 19 cases that are actually determined from testing.” 

Using that wastewater data, the city will be monitoring its seven basins for spikes in SARS-CoV-2 RNA — an indicator of COVID-19. 

When high levels of COVID-19 are found in one of the basins, the city will send a recorded voice message and text message to residents of nearby, informing them there are elevated levels of the virus in their area and asking them to monitor their symptoms and get tested immediately for COVID-19. 

"We’re going to make reverse 911 calls to those neighborhoods and advise those residents that regular data collection has determined that there’s an increase in COVID-19 in their neighborhood and encourage them to wear a mask, socially distance, and encourage them to get one of the free COVID tests either at the Colorado State Fairgrounds or at the Pueblo Mall,” Gradisar said. “And to isolate themselves until they get a negative test result.” 

For a COVID-19 alert to be issued, virus levels “must show three consecutive tests with significant increase or two tests with large increases,” according to a Wednesday statement by Gradisar’s office. 

The calls will come from the Pueblo emergency operations center, Gradisar said, and will allow the city to alert residents of their potential infection prior to the onset of symptoms. 

“Pueblo’s numbers have been pretty high over the past 30 days, maybe as high as any on the Front Range, and we want to get a handle on that,” Gradisar said. 

“The sewer data gives us about a 5-day lead. When there’s a spike in the RNA of the sewer system, there’s about 5 days before we see that reflected in increased cases in the community. So we’re hoping that by utilizing this early warning system we can get people to the testing sites earlier, maybe even perhaps before they have symptoms, and determine whether or not they actually have COVID-19.” 

MORE: Pueblo County COVID-19 tracker

Chieftain reporter Zach Hillstrom can be reached at zhillstrom@gannett.com or twitter.com/ZachHillstrom