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Vital analysis will continue for another year with $8.2 million in new funding

June 2, 2022 (CHICAGO) —The Illinois Department of Public Health and the Discovery Partners Institute today announced their comprehensive effort to monitor the coronavirus and its variants in wastewater will extend into mid-2023 with $8.2 million in additional funding.

The federally funded effort will help public health officials track the prevalence of COVID-19 across Illinois and provide a potential sign of another surge in infections. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is detectable human waste nearly from the onset of infection, while symptoms may not appear for three to five days.

“We are very grateful to our federal funding partners for the support that allows us to continue building our capacity to conduct wastewater surveillance in communities throughout the state of Illinois,” said IDPH Acting Director Amaal Tokars. “This technology holds promise to serve as a sentinel, early-warning system for the presence of disease as well as new variants of concern.”

The one-year continuation of an agreement between IDPH and DPI also could enable the Illinois Wastewater Surveillance System to begin watching out for other infectious viruses and expand targeted wastewater surveillance at facilities and institutions.

“Wastewater monitoring, we hope, will become the best warning system we have,” said DPI Executive Director Bill Jackson. “It’s our own weatherman thanks to our predictive modeling. DPI’s applied R&D division is so proud to play a role in protecting Illinois citizens and improving our understanding of the virus.”

The Illinois Wastewater Surveillance System is an interdisciplinary collaboration between the Illinois Department of Public Health and scientists from DPI, the University of Illinois Chicago, Northwestern University, Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Previously, the effort has received $8.9 million from the state, the city of Chicago and the Walder Foundation.

Under the first round of IDPH funding of $5.5 million, the Illinois Wastewater Surveillance System team established collection sites at 71 wastewater-treatment facilities in 46 counties. It is in conversations with other counties about broadening coverage. (Separately, the DPI team partners with the Chicago Department of Public Health to track the coronavirus from sewers within the city, including at O’Hare International Airport.)

Nearly 200 samples are collected each week from across 56,000 square miles of Illinois. They are then transported to a UIC microbiology lab for analysis. A subset of samples is also sequenced at Argonne to determine which COVID-19 variants are infecting people at any given time. The results are forwarded to IDPH and can be used to inform public health protocols.

The data is also shared with the National Wastewater Surveillance System within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for inclusion in the CDC COVID Data Tracker. The funding for this effort comes from the CDC.

About DPI

The Discovery Partners Institute empowers people to jumpstart their tech careers or companies in Chicago. Led by the University of Illinois System in partnership with top research universities, it does three things: Train people for high-demand tech jobs; conduct applied R&D; and support business building. With state investment and a new innovation district in development, DPI has the resources to attract, develop, and leverage the most ambitious people and companies the region has to offer — and keep them here.