Illinois Department of Public Health and the Discovery Partners Institute Announce Statewide System to Monitor COVID-19 in Wastewater

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) today announced a statewide system to monitor the virus that causes COVID-19 and its variants in wastewater, providing public health officials with early warnings of a potential outbreak on a county-by-county basis.  SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is detectable in human waste nearly from the onset of infection, while symptoms may not appear for three to five days.  IDPH is providing $5.5 million to build and support the monitoring system for the next year. Together IDPH and DPI will implement the program in phases, starting with sampling and analysis in 10 Illinois counties, expanding to 35 counties in mid-summer, and to all 102 Illinois counties by the end of the year.  The 10 counties include Carroll, Cass, Franklin, Fulton, Jefferson, Lawrence, Livingston, Macon, Montgomery, and Vermilion. Wastewater monitoring involves treatment plant personnel collecting 8-ounce (250ml) samples twice weekly and shipping them overnight for laboratory analysis.  A rapid, automated sample processing and analysis system will be built to measure SARS-CoV-2 levels, which will indicate a rise or fall of COVID-19 infections in the community served by the treatment plant. Samples will be further analyzed at Argonne National Laboratory and IDPH laboratories using genetic sequencing to track COVID-19 variants. DPI’s Wastewater-Based Epidemiology (WBE) science team, led by University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) Professor Rachel Poretsky and DPI Senior Research Scientist Charlie Catlett, includes scientists at DPI, UIC, Northwestern University, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and Argonne National Laboratory. The team has developed methods for assessing COVID-19 vulnerability by county and translating wastewater lab results into actionable information for public health.


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