Nebraska DHHS using genomic and wastewater surveillance to track COVID-19

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services announces the use of two tools to track COVID-19.
(John Minchillo | AP)

LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announces the use of two tools to track COVID-19.

The DHHS says it will begin the development and implementation of genomic and wastewater surveillance to monitor COVID-19 cases and variants across the state.

“The better we are able to track and study COVID-19 and future viruses, the better we can respond to emerging threats,” said Dr. Matthew Donahue, State Epidemiologist for DHHS. “These tools will help enhance our surveillance infrastructure to effectively respond to outbreaks now and in the future.”

Genomic surveillance involves tracking the spread of a disease in a population. Experts sequence the genetic code of the virus to understand how it evolves over time.

DHHS officials say this method will help health experts estimate how prevalent COVID-19 variants are in the state’s population. The method can also help determine if a variant causes mild or severe disease, or if a vaccine works effectively against them.

Wastewater surveillance involves monitoring COVID-19 in wastewater. The DHHS says COVID-19 is shed in the feces of infected individuals, and concentrations of the virus can be measured by sampling wastewater at treatment plants. Measuring the levels of COVID-19 in wastewater helps health officials determine if case numbers are increasing or decreasing.

The DHHS is partnering with the University of Nebraska and wastewater utilities across the state to monitor COVID-19 in wastewater.

“DHHS and stakeholders throughout the State are continuing our close partnerships developed during the pandemic to ensure we are collaborating and using every available tool to protect the well-being of all Nebraskans,” said DHHS CEO Dannette Smith.