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The analysis will continue for two years with $2.14 million in funding by CDPH

The Discovery Partners Institute (DPI), part of the University of Illinois System, and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) today announced the citywide system to monitor the virus that causes COVID-19 and its variants in wastewater will continue for two years leveraging $2.14 million in federal funding.

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 – or for some, not at all.

DPI and CDPH’s wastewater surveillance system to monitor SARS-CoV-2 launched in October. Findings are used – along with other public health surveillance data – to inform the City’s COVID-19 response, for example, by providing early warnings of a potential outbreak, or helping the City prioritize communities for enhanced COVID-19 testing or vaccination services. This system does not identify individuals who are infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, but it allows the health department to monitor infection levels at community or population levels.

“Testing of wastewater is one of many systems that allow CDPH to better understand transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 and its variants in Chicago,” said CDPH Commissioner Allison Arwady, M.D. “Getting vaccinated remains the number one way for Chicagoans to protect themselves from getting sick, going to the hospital, or dying from COVID-19. This and other data systems enable CDPH to continue to focus our efforts on the communities that need it most.”

The program builds on two prior initiatives: DPI’s efforts to develop a statewide monitoring system for the Illinois Department of Public Health and previous sewer monitoring in Chicago and the Cook County Jail and O’Hare International Airport, funded by the Walder Foundation.

“The Walder Foundation’s initial grants enabled us to design a sampling strategy that optimizes monitoring at wastewater treatment plants and sewer access manholes in Chicago,” said DPI Executive Director Bill Jackson. “We are thrilled the city has seen value in our initial efforts and has asked us to continue with full government funding.”

Samples will be analyzed at the University of Illinois-Chicago to identify SARS-CoV-2, and quantify SARS-CoV-2 in the samples. Samples will also be sequenced at Argonne National Lab to characterize SARS-CoV-2variants. Researchers at Northwestern University are contributing to the design of the sampling program and generating assessments to support CDPH’s efforts in combating the pandemic.