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University of Illinois, IDPH team up to test school wastewater for COVID-19, flu

University of Illinois, IDPH look to school wastewater to detect next COVID-19 outbreak
University of Illinois, IDPH look to school wastewater to detect next COVID-19 outbreak 02:16

CHICAGO (CBS) – The Illinois Department of Public Health announced a new way to test for coronavirus and the flu virus at some elementary and high schools in Illinois.

CBS 2's Jackie Kostek explained how students may not even realize it's happening.

Call it a school experiment for the sake of public health.

"Our partners at IDPH have an interest in going into schools to see if that's a good way of getting good information on increases and decreases in COVID outbreaks and also influenza," said Laura Clements.

Clements leads the University of Illinois' Discovery Partners Institute, which teamed up with the IDPH to launch the state's wastewater surveillance system more than a year ago.

Their goal is to monitor COVID trends and community transmission levels. They're looking to expand to schools, launching a first-of-its-kind pilot program. They'll monitor 20 schools across the state for 25 weeks.

So how are the samples actually collected and what happens once they are collected?

"What we'll do is work with our partners to put in a machine that goes into an identified site at the school and collects samples every hour, the hours the school is in session," Clements said.

The samples will be delivered to a University of Illinois at Chicago Lab where they will be tested for COVID and the flu. Clements said it's a cost-effective way of knowing whether a school is on the verge of a potential outbreak.

"Instead of having to test everybody individually, you're getting a good snapshot from the entire community," she said.

With the experiment being conducted for the sake of public health, Clements was asked if she could see kids being introduced to this program to understand what is potentially being used to help their health.

"I think so," she said. "One of the goals that DPI has is just wastewater-based epidemiology is such a cool field. It's so much promise for public health and other applications. What you contribute to the toilet really matters and can be very useful and I think that is very fascinating to people and I think it would be fascinating to kids."

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