DHHS Develops Tools to Track and Better Understand COVID-19, Future Viruses

News Release
For Immediate Release: 3/28/2022

Jeff Powell, (402) 471-6223,


Lincoln, Neb. – The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced the development and implementation of two tools, genomic and wastewater surveillance to better understand and track COVID-19 and its variants. These tools can also be used to track other viruses that may arise in the future.

Genomic Surveillance

DHHS has organized a stakeholders group comprised of DHHS, local health departments, a network of laboratories including the Nebraska Public Health Laboratory (NPHL), Creighton University, CHI Health Laboratory, and the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health to form the “Nebraska Genomics Consortium."

Genomic surveillance is the process of monitoring and tracking the evolution and spread of diseases currently circulating in the population to better understand changes in the genetic code of viruses. Experts will sequence the genetic code of the virus to better understand how it is evolving to assess threats to the public.

Genomic surveillance provides valuable information such as:

  • Estimates the prevalence of variants in the population
  • Evaluates the transmissibility or contagiousness of variants that spread in outbreaks
  • Help determine if variants cause mild or severe disease in people
  • Determines if vaccines work effectively against variants or new variants that may arise

Wastewater Surveillance

DHHS is collaborating with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) College of Public Health, and wastewater utilities across Nebraska to monitor the COVID-19 virus in wastewater.

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is shed in feces by infected individuals. Virus concentrations can be measured by sampling wastewater in community treatment plants. The data collected by these samples can give insight into the trends of COVID-19 in communities served by the treatment plant.

Wastewater surveillance is an emerging public health tool. Wastewater surveillance data could serve as an early warning to public health officials about increases or decreases in COVID-19 cases within a community that could help with more effective resource deployments. For more information on wastewater surveillance and how it is used throughout the country, please click here.

Genomic and wastewater surveillance can not only help track COVID-19 but will also be helpful in tracing future variants or viruses.

“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 R Smith.

“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."

View the latest genomics and wastewater reports, click here.

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