Chicago, U of I embarks on $ 2 million program to detect COVID in wastewater
The city’s health department will work with a team of researchers from the University of Illinois to monitor COVID-19 in wastewater as part of a $ 2 million program over the next two years .
The aim of the project is to collect wastewater samples in order to detect the virus and potentially predict future epidemics. The virus is detectable in human waste from the onset of infection long before symptoms appear in humans, the researchers say.
Measuring the amount of virus in wastewater can indicate community trends that are helping health officials identify their response and control efforts during the pandemic.
“This and other data systems allow [the health department] to continue to focus our efforts on the communities that need it most, ”Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in a statement.
The Department of Health is funding the program with $ 2.14 million provided by the federal government. The city is working with the Discovery Partners Institute of the U of I.
The program will build on research from previous projects undertaken by Discovery Partners, including the development of a state-wide wastewater monitoring system and a privately funded program that analyzed samples of sewers around Cook County Jail and O’Hare Airport.
Wastewater samples will be analyzed at the U of I Chicago and genetic sequencing of the material will be performed at the Argonne National Lab to identify variants of the virus.
Illinois is seeing an increase in COVID cases, and health officials fear the Omicron variant, the latest version of the virus, could worsen the crisis. Meanwhile, city health officials are struggling to improve immunization rates in many communities, even though there are plenty of vaccine stocks.
Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.