CHICAGO (WLS) -- There are new signs that the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic is not yet finished.
CDC wastewater studies found there is a growing amount of COVID-19 in municipal wastewater around the country, including Chicago and Cook County.
UIC biological sciences associate professor Rachel Poretsky and her team of staff and students take daily samples of wastewater from communities around Illinois for analysis.
"It's probably harder to gauge increases now because the values are so low, so I'll give you an example, if we go from 0 to 500, that looks like a 500-fold increase but 500 is still really low," explained Poretsky.
Their lab, with funding from national COVID-fighting budgets and state and country public health programs, is seeing the lowest values in COVID-19 contamination since last November, just before the Omicron variant struck
"We are just keeping an eye on things and as we see any slight upticks, we tell our public health partners where to keep our eyes on so it is not as high stakes," said Poretsky.
But China is seeing a massive spike in new COVID-19 infections, with cases more than doubling. A fast-spreading variant known as "stealth omicron" is testing China's zero-tolerance strategy. The United Kingdom has also seen a big jump in new cases but people are not dying in large numbers.
Chicago's top doctor said she's not worried yet.
"We do anticipate as people are dropping masks and feeling very comfortable from a COVID perspective, that we may see some increase," said Dr. Allison Arwady, CDPH Commissioner.
The wastewater samples are injected with nano-sized magnetic particles that are then extracted in Kingfisher machines to yield what SARS-CoV-2, if any, is present. The scientists said they're much better at that compared to the early days of the pandemic.
"Should we see another variant at any point, we can really quickly change our methods or increase our methods to track specific variants," said Poretsky.