ILLINOIS (WCIA) — “This is a real tool that can help public health moving forward to help identify potentially very dangerous viruses or diseases,” Bill Maurello with Shield T3 said.

The next tool in the toolbox to help fight COVID-19 in schools is almost here. Illinois Department of Public Health and the U u of I’s Discovery Partners Institute, or DPI, are conducting a 25-week pilot project aimed at reducing the spread of the virus.

“These are composite auto samplers that we program to collect samples during specific times during the day so we can optimize the best sample collection for a population of people,” Maurello said.

Bill Maurello works with Shield T3. That company is providing the robots that will take samples from wastewater and sewage. Each one costs $6,000.

DPI will recruit 20 schools across Illinois, including K-12, public and private.

“It’s a wide variety of different schools from across the state that we will be sending out like a request for volunteers,” Laura Clements with DPI said.

As for students, nothing changes.

“Students are not expected to do anything except normal daily activities of the school,” Clements said.

The project will start next month and will continue into the winter. Officials say benefits include this process being cost-effective and it can be expanded into other settings.

“The goal is so we have good sources of data that we can correlate the different levels of surveillance with each other,” Clements said.

Maurello says Illinois was chosen because of the hard work health officials did prior to the pandemic.

“Why Illinois because they are very open minded to doing testing and we’re trying to find an alternative way to diagnostic testing,” Maurello said.

Currently, there is a four-week recruiting process going on to determine which schools will be chosen for the project.