The Perfect Enemy | Down the drain: Officials track COVID-19 levels in wastewater samples - Shaw Local
January 29, 2023

Down the drain: Officials track COVID-19 levels in wastewater samples – Shaw Local

Down the drain: Officials track COVID-19 levels in wastewater samples  Shaw Local

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A new online tool is helping communities track COVID-19 levels by testing sewage samples.

The Discovery Partners Institute and the Illinois Department of Public Health recently announced a new website that tracks the levels of COVID-19 in wastewater samples in cities across Illinois, including in Dixon and Sterling.

Public health authorities increasingly have come to rely on wastewater tallies now that people generally have switched to doing at-home COVID-19 testing and are not reporting results.

The online tool builds on the statistics posted on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID Data Tracker website and provides more Illinois-specific data.

“This data is now going to be available to researchers and the public alike, giving everyone as accurate picture as possible for the pandemic,” DPI Executive Director Bill Jackson said in a news release. “This is a game-changer in terms of transparency and public health awareness, and we applaud IDPH for partnering with us on this bold step.”

Monitoring wastewater for the coronavirus has been proven to be an accurate and cost-effective way to measure COVID-19′s presence in a community, the release said. Genetic material from viruses and other germs is excreted in the feces and urine of infected people, eventually showing up in the raw sewage piped into purification facilities.

On the new site, visitors can search by city or county for up-to-date figures and trendlines from any one of 75 wastewater treatment plants around Illinois that are voluntarily collecting samples of raw sewage to be screened for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“Wastewater surveillance is a great tool that can help detect and monitor COVID-19, the flu and other pathogens,” IDPH Director Dr. Sameer Vohra said. “This new website is designed to inform and educate residents of Illinois and will give them the ability to make informed decisions about how to protect themselves.”

Samples are collected twice a week and taken to a lab at the University of Illinois Chicago for analysis and then to Argonne National Laboratory for genetic sequencing to identify virus variants. Sewage samples are also being screened for influenza A and B for IDPH.

“Additionally, the vision is to provide online modules for all the different levels of experience and ages — from kindergarteners to seniors — to show the usefulness of the information and bring fun into learning about wastewater research,” said Sandra Gesing, DPI wastewater team lead and senior research scientist.

Northern Illinois University will be hosting a STEM Café on wastewater surveillance testing from the experts who are managing the testing programs at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Fatty’s Pub and Grille in DeKalb. Go to go.niu.edu/STEMCafe for more information or to register.

DPI, which is part of the University of Illinois System, began its wastewater surveillance effort in 2020, partnering with UIC and Argonne as well as Northwestern University, which assists in data modeling and analytics.

Sauk Valley COVID-19 update

All Sauk Valley counties are listed as low risk for COVID-19 spread.

Whiteside County had less than 10 cases during the past seven days, according to the most recent information available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 data tracker Monday. There were 109 cases the week before.

The positivity rate for the last seven days is at 4.79% from 6.53%, and there were two new hospitalizations.

Lee County had less than 10 cases compared with 94 cases the week prior and is at a 5.36% positivity rate, from 8.75%, and there were two new hospitalizations.

Ogle County had 105 cases across the week compared with 105, with a positivity rate of 8.09%, from 11.84%, and there were two new hospitalizations.

Carroll County reported less than 10 cases, compared with 17 cases the previous week, and a positivity rate of 5.26%, from 28.57%.