Jan 28, 2022 - COVID

City finally delivers COVID poop data

Woman in lab with test tubes

University of Illinois at Chicago student Eva Durance prepares wastewater samples for analysis. Photo courtesy of IDPH

Like a lot of other cities, including Boston, Minneapolis, and Des Moines, Chicago has been tracking COVID-19 through traces of the virus in fecal wastewater.

Why it matters: Chicago has shared very little waste water data with the public, especially compared with other municipalities involved in this federal program.

  • And the city's first report doesn't reveal much, except that cases rose from the beginning to the end of December, which we already knew. January data is unavailable.
  • Eight months ago, the state put at least $5.5 million into a sister surveillance system that expects to share its first data in February.

Driving the news: That data could soon become pretty useful.

Yes, but: Researchers told WBEZ last week that the data is more useful for tracking trends than actual case numbers. Different people shed different levels of virus in their poop, plus, storm water can dilute the samples.

What's next: Researchers told WBEZ they hope to deliver more timely and specific (even neighborhood level) data as the program progresses.

December COVID-19 wastewater data. Screenshot from CDPH

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