DWFI Faculty Fellows Xu Li and Jesse Bell spoke during a recent press conference held by Lincoln mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird on their local work surrounding the novel coronavirus. For the past three months, Li, Bell and Faculty Fellow Shannon Bartelt-Hunt have partnered with the Lincoln Transportation and Utilities in Nebraska to detect COVID-19 in wastewater. Recent studies have shown that those infected with COVID-19 shed the virus in their waste, which can be detected in wastewater systems.
Along with UNL professor Megan Kelley and other University colleagues — and with assistance from the City of Lincoln — Li, Bell, and Bartelt-Hunt are monitoring COVID-19 concentrations in wastewater samples collected weekly throughout the city, along with Omaha and Grand Island. They then pair this with demographic data and other known data related to the virus.
By monitoring the trend in the wastewater, researchers hope to detect potential outbreaks and account for those who are asymptomatic or not currently engaged with the healthcare system. The amount of the virus shed in wastewater could be a leading indicator for the amount of spread within a community. This research could serve as "passive community surveillance method" for COVID-19 and help determine the future needs within the community, said Bell.