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Michigan universities and health departments get money to test wastewater for COVID-19

MLive - GrandRapids/Muskegon/Kalamazoo logo MLive - GrandRapids/Muskegon/Kalamazoo 11/24/2020 Cheyna Roth,
a person standing in a room: Saginaw Valley State University Lab Technician Olivia Bishop uses the water samples to make composites before testing them, Monday, June 17, 2019. © Kaytie Boomer | Boomer | Saginaw Valley State University Lab Technician Olivia Bishop uses the water samples to make composites before testing them, Monday, June 17, 2019.

Universities and health departments across the state will get a boost to track COVID-19 cases.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) announced the distribution of $10 million in grant funding and laboratory equipment to 20 recipients for a three-month pilot program to test their wastewater for the COVID-19 virus.

“These local efforts have the potential to be an early warning system for the spread of COVID-19 within a specific community or for coronavirus outbreaks on college campuses and at other densely populated facilities,” EGLE said in a statement.

Universities and colleges such as Michigan State University, Saginaw Valley State University, Oakland University, Hope College, and Ferris State University are each getting hundreds of thousands of dollars, and in Michigan State University’s case more than one million dollars, for things like training, sample collection and analysis.

The testing methodology originated at the beach.

The labs use quantitative polymerase chain reaction, or qPCR methods to test the wastewater for traces of the virus. The genetic testing method has been used for years to provide fast turnaround responses for whether a beach has E. coli.

But scientists in Michigan and across the world discovered the qPCR methods can also be used to test human waste for traces of the virus. Scientists watch for upticks in the amount of virus in the waste, and from there can alert local health departments to head-off a potential surge.

“The virus is shed in human waste, including people who are not ill or have not yet become ill,” EGLE said. “The virus can then be detected by testing samples taken from sewers and wastewater treatment plants, with results often being available earlier than human clinical samples.”

The method has been known to show a surge weeks before traditional testing.

These pilot programs are being run by a network of 29 local health departments, 18 laboratories, and 125 university, municipal and other partners across Michigan.

EGLE made the following 20 grants and equipment donations:

$1,326,694 to Michigan State University to train and assist labs with analytical methods

$800,000 to Michigan State University to collect and analyze samples

$493,605 to Hope College

$404,151 to the Macomb Interceptor Drain Drainage District

$390,660 to Oakland University

$344,960 to Saginaw Valley State University

$352,721 to the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department to monitor sites with samples analyzed by Michigan Technological University

$291,594 to Ferris State University for the Shimadzu Core Laboratory to monitor sites

$318,017 to Grand Valley State University for the Annis Water Resources Institute to monitor sites

$263,809 to Wayne State University to monitor WSU dorms and Midtown Detroit

$202,645 to the Regents of the University of Michigan to monitor wastewater treatment plants

$180,000 to the Regents of the University of Michigan to monitor additional sites.

$307,387 to the Health Department of Northwest Michigan for the Northern Michigan Regional Lab to monitor sites

$171,708 to the City of Traverse City

$151,929 to White Water Associates, Inc. in partnership with the Iron-Dickinson and Delta-Menominee Health Departments

$111,708 to Central Michigan University

$110,092 to Kent County Health Department

$106,870 to Oakland County Health Division

$118,000 to Lake Superior State University

$92,588 awarded to Northern Michigan University

The following 29 local public health departments are participating:

Allegan County Health Department

Bay County Health Department

Central Michigan District Health Department

Chippewa County Health Department

Detroit Health Department

Dickinson-Iron District Health Department

District Health Department No. 10

District Health Department No. 2

Genesee County Health Department

Grand Traverse County Health Department

Health Department of Northwest Michigan

Huron County Health Department

Ingham County Health Department

Kent County Health Department

Lapeer County Health Department

Livingston County Health Department

Macomb County Health Department

Marquette County Health Department

Midland County Health Department

Mid-Michigan District Health Department

Oakland County Health Division

Ottawa County Department of Public Health

Public Health - Muskegon County

Public Health, Delta & Menominee Counties

Saginaw County Health Department

St. Clair County Health Department

Washtenaw County Department of Public Health

Wayne County Department of Health, Human & Veterans Services

Western Upper Peninsula Health Department

EGLE will coordinate sample collection, lab analysis, data reporting and communication with the local monitoring teams across Michigan. MDHHS will provide project support to participating local health departments, including how to integrate local wastewater data with other types of COVID-19 surveillance and public health responses.

More From MLive:

Wastewater testing for coronavirus outbreak detection to get $10M pilot

How Michigan scientists are using beach testing tools to find COVID-19 infections

Monday, Nov. 23, coronavirus data by county: Coronavirus cases for last week hit new record

Exhausted in a ‘nightmare’: A look inside a Michigan hospital COVID unit


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