Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the Discovery Partners Institute (DPI), University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), Northwestern University and Argonne National Laboratory formed a science team to detect the presence of coronavirus in wastewater.

Funded initially by the Walder Foundation, and later by the Illinois and Chicago Departments of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the DPI team gathers sewage samples from treatment plants as well as directly from sewers in Chicago neighborhoods, and key facilities such as O’Hare International Airport. The contents are screened for the virus at a high-throughput lab built by UIC; Argonne then sequences the genetic material to provide data on virus variants. Northwestern heads efforts to enhance and customize data analytics for Illinois public health needs while DPI leads program design, management and logistics.

Real-time findings are shared with both the Illinois and Chicago Departments of Public Health to help both agencies track COVID-19's spread and guide public health policies.

DPI and its partners are collecting samples from over 85 locations, covering the output of more than 8 million Illinoisans. To date, thousands of samples have been analyzed and sequenced. Total funding, largely from the city and state public health departments, comes to more than $17 million.

About the DPI Science Team

K-12 Schools Pilot

DPI and IDPH have partnered on a K-12 wastewater research project. Assisted by Shield T3, we are collecting samples at a handful of locations across Illinois to evaluate whether wastewater can provide a cost-effective, non-invasive, anonymous method for monitoring SARS-CoV-2 and influenza A/B in K-12 schools statewide, including when infection levels are low.