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'It is changing rapidly': How testing wastewater tracks the spread of COVID

Health officials tracking COVID with wastewater samples
"It's a very new science": Health officials tracking COVID-19 with wastewater samples 02:19

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The state is keeping tabs on the spread of COVID-19 by testing your wastewater, and now there's a new way you can track the results near you. 

CBS 2's Sara Machi reports from the O'Brien Wastewater Reclamation Plant in Skokie.

Everyone now has access to a new online COVID tracker. The idea is to collect samples from the O'Brien Wastewater Reclamation Plant and dozens of other sites. And even if you didn't know it -- you've been contributing to the study for years.

 "It's a very new science. It is changing rapidly. I think I have possibly the best job on the planet."

That might not be what you expect to here from someone who spends her day looking at data from human waste, but Laura Clements said her work is one of the unexpected advancements of the COVID pandemic.

"I remember telling somebody in the checkout line at Trader Joe's what I do for a living. They really wanted to know. I said 'I manage a program that tests sewage for COVID.' It's definitely an interesting conversation," Clements said.

For years, Clements and her team have compiled information from samples first collected at 75 sites across the state, and analyzed by researchers including scientists from the University of Illinois-Chicago.

They've previously sent the information to state health officials -- and the C-D-C but now -- their findings are at your fingertips. Take a look at results from the Skokie plant site.

"The goal of this dashboard is to really highlight the research and community engagement an out reach," Clements said. 

Clements and her team said they hope this gets more people engaged in the scientific process.

"Just to understand it. And to get interested in research. I would love that," said senior project manager Sandra Gesing.

Clements said wastewater epidemiology is really cutting edge. They plan to use their methodology to look at more illnesses, including Influenza A and B, and anything state health leaders want them to look at.

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