Poop provides another way for Waterloo Region to flush out spread of COVID-19

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Waterloo Public Health has launched a new COVID-19 wastewater surveillance dashboard that shows how testing of local wastewater for the virus has fared.

Arianne Folkema, an epidemiologist with Waterloo Public Health, says the data provides another useful tool in the chest for the region to keep an eye on how the virus is spreading in our community.

Read more: Waterloo Region will start contacting 12- to 17-year-olds Friday to book COVID-19 vaccine appointments

“It allows us to monitor COVID infection in the whole community, whether or not symptoms are present or test results are available,” she explained.

Folkema said that it will measure everyone’s data, not just those who go for testing.

“So the concept here is that everyone poops, which means that by sampling and analyzing the wastewater signal, we can monitor the transmission of COVID-19 for everyone that contributes to the source system,” the epidemiologist explained.

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“And that includes those that never experience symptoms, other subgroups that perhaps choose not to get tested or have barriers to accessing services.”

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She said it will never replace the need for people to get tested as there are external factors (such as rain or snowmelt) that  could affect the data, but it could prove to be useful looking down the road.

“Moving forward, I think it will be a very useful tool because as the pandemic evolves, testing behaviours may change in our community,” Folkema said.

“Perhaps there will be less awareness to get tested, and so it’ll be kind of like another signal to watch: ‘Are we seeing changes in our wastewater but not seeing parallel changes in our cases?’”

She said that might be a reason to extend a call for more people to get tested.

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The testing is also able to look for variants of concern, although that information is not being shared at the moment.

Folkema said that the data showed there was a high rate of transmission of the U.K. variant along similar lines to regular tests have shown.

Read more: Nearly 60 per cent of Waterloo Region adults have had 1 dose of COVID-19 vaccine

“We are seeing similar trends,” she explained. “About 60 to 80 per cent of the wastewater signal is the B.1.1.7 variant.”

Currently, the dashboard only shows wastewater results from Kitchener and Waterloo. Info from Cambridge was to be posted as well, but factors in the water samples are interfering with the researchers’ ability to detect signals from that city.

Folkema says the research team from the region, alongside the University of Waterloo, are working to see what is causing the issue.

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