University of Michigan researchers surveying wastewater systems for COVID-19 will be able to increase testing sites and continue monitoring until 2023 after receiving more than $5 million from the state health department.
The funding is part of a $49 million effort by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to support 19 projects to continue wastewater surveillance and implement COVID-19 variant strain testing of wastewater, officials said.
Chuanwu Xi, a professor of environmental health sciences at the UM School of Public Health, said the grant will allow researchers to monitor more frequently and for an extended period of time the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2, including a few variant strains, in sewage from several buildings on and off campus.
Xi is getting $2.7 million in grants.
“Data collected will allow us to evaluate the situation of COVID-19 spread in the community and the effectiveness of vaccination and other public health interventions,” Xi said. “Our data will be shared in a real-time fashion with our county and state health departments and the university COVID-19 response committees to assist the development of data-driven public health policies.”
Xi said project partners included the U-M Environment, Health & Safety Department, the city of Ann Arbor and Hamburg Township.
Krista Wigginton, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, said the grant will allow her to add three new members to her team and to expand their current work with the wastewater treatment systems in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti to Jackson and Flint.
It will also allow them to analyze daily samples to monitor for the prevalence of COVID-19 within these communities, she said.
Wigginton and Kevin Bakker, an assistant research scientist at U-M’s School of Public Health are getting include $2.5 million in grants.
Data from the sample analysis will be shared to a statewide dashboard, but the team is also partnering with local health departments in Washtenaw, Genessee and Jackson counties to inform their local responses to COVID-19, officials said.
“We’re excited to participate in this important project for the State of Michigan to continue fighting COVID-19,” Wiggington said. “Wastewater-based epidemiology has shown to be a valuable tool to inform public health officials of case levels and infection trends in a community.”