Over the next six months it will expand to help some Indigenous communities as well.
The team has been awarded more than $137,000 by the Public Health Agency of Canada to take the project to five Indigenous communities in the province.
Currently, it’s being done in Saskatoon. Samples are taken from the water treatment plant, and researchers analyze it, and can see the spread of COVID-19 through human excrement.
One researcher says they can predict trends five to seven days sooner than testing can.
“We don’t have to worry if someone with the virus has symptoms or doesn’t have symptoms, we’re able to just see the global mixture of that waste water,” explained Kerry McPhedran, engineering professor with the university.
“That allows us to see if the amount of people that are infected are going up or down over time.”
McPhedran said this research can be used as another tool by health officials to track transition and see sooner whether things are getting better or worse.
“From a human perspective, it’s nice to see when the trends are going down, or if they’re going up,” he said.
“You can inform whether or not you want to go skiing that weekend or do things because we try and live more than in the bubbles that we’re in.”
McPhedran added this could also show whether vaccines are working or not and helps as COVID-19 variants show up in a community.
The team is still deciding which Indigenous communities to do testing in over the next six months.
A group representing some tribal councils says one thing they’ll be looking at is whether the virus can be transmitted by eating traditional foods.
Researchers say they hope to bring some technology to indigenous communities so they can test their water.
They also said in Saskatoon, it plans to post results from the analysis online for people to see once a week.