Illinois to monitor spread of flu and Covid-19 in schools through wastewater

Published: Sep. 29, 2022 at 4:12 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 29, 2022 at 4:13 PM CDT
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CHICAGO, Ill. (KWQC) -The state of Illinois announced it is launching a program to protect school children from COVID-19 and reduce its spread by analyzing school wastewater for the coronavirus. The project, which will also test for influenza A and B, expands the Illinois Wastewater Surveillance System, a partnership between the Illinois Department of Public Health and the University of Illinois.

The 25-week pilot project will include up to 20 schools across Illinois covering thousands of K-12 students. It will launch in the coming weeks and continue into the winter. A four-week process is underway to select the 20 schools participating in the pilot.

Schools qualifying for participation will be located within community sewersheds currently participating in the wastewater surveillance system in both urban, suburban, and rural areas throughout the state. The effort will be the first of its kind in Illinois.

Samples will be collected from sewers or catch basins at each school twice a week while school is in session and then delivered to a University of Illinois Chicago testing laboratory. The SARS-CoV-2 and influenza viruses, like other pathogens, are shed in human feces.

Once samples are analyzed, levels will be compared with school saliva testing results to determine whether combined wastewater sampling and saliva testing could be a reliable, more cost-effective approach to detect and limit spread of the virus.

For example, if there are no signs of the coronavirus, schools could safely continue to operate with eased precautions. If virus levels rise to a tipping point, however, administrators could require students, teachers, and other staff members to take saliva tests to pinpoint the scope of the outbreak and take other public-health actions to keep more children from being infected.

IDPH will fund the effort using federal COVID-19 relief funds and execute the project through its partnership with DPI which coordinates the wastewater surveillance program.

For more information on the IWSS, Click HERE.