“The pandemic just really catalyzed this big push to move something forward,” said Sandra McLellan, a professor in the School of Freshwater Sciences at UW-Milwaukee. She spoke yesterday during a virtual WisBusiness.com luncheon event focused on federally funded research.

Early on in the pandemic, environmental microbiologists in the state working with wastewater and untreated sewage came together to develop a new method for COVID-19 community surveillance. McLellan explained that this effort “really was much more difficult than if we were doing it in a normally functioning lab,” as pandemic restrictions limited the number of scientists that could work in the lab and meet in person.

Still, by expanding on existing national collaborations with other scientists, she said the research team was able to create a “surveillance method that just wasn’t even in existence” beforehand. Her team, along with the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, is currently monitoring 50 cities in the state. They’ve been able to identify outbreaks before they show up in testing results by tracking the levels of the virus in cities’ wastewater systems.

Watch a video of the discussion by clicking here.