The Illinois Department of Public Health and the Discovery Partners Institute announced today they are instituting a statewide program to monitor COVID-19 in wastewater.
IDPH says that the virus 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. It is the hope to detect a potential outbreak on a county-by-county basis.
IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike says monitoring wastewater has been used successfully in the past for early detection of diseases, such as polio.
IDPH and DPI will implement the program in phases, starting with sampling and analysis in 10 Illinois counties. Cass County will be one of the first 10 to be a part of the program. The monitoring program will expand to 35 counties by mid-summer and then to all 102 counties by the end of the year.
Wastewater monitoring involves treatment plant personnel collecting 8-ounce samples twice weekly and shipping them overnight for laboratory analysis. A rapid, automated sample processing and analysis system will be built to measure Covid levels. Samples will be further analyzed at Argonne National Laboratory and IDPH laboratories using genetic sequencing to track virus variants.
The university-expert led analysis team has developed methods for assessing COVID-19 vulnerability by county and translating anonymous wastewater lab results into actionable information for public health.