Wastewater testing for COVID-19 continues in Lethbridge

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Wastewater testing for COVID-19 continues in Lethbridge
More and more communities across Alberta are being monitored for COVID-19 through wastewater. Researchers are sharing that data with the public to help keep communities informed. As Quinn Campbell reports, the latest data shows Lethbridge is experiencing a major spike in people infected with the virus. – Jan 17, 2022

The City of Lethbridge has been participating in the wastewater collection program to monitor COVID-19 for about a year and a half.

Adam Campbell of the city’s wastewater team said recent grant money to researchers at two post-secondary institutes got them even more involved.

“We really ramped up our collection to support both of those facilities and send off local waster water samples to both the U of A and U of C three times a week.”

The University of Calgary and the University of Alberta have been collecting and analyzing wastewater samples for traces of the virus since May of 2020. That research has since expanded into a pan-Alberta network, with widespread data currently testing 24 communities from Fort McMurray to Lethbridge.

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And while PCR testing has traditionally been a key driver for public policy in previous waves of the pandemic, reduced access to provincial tests and increased options for at-home testing means positive case counts are much less accurate.

Click to play video: 'Alberta continuing care facilities experience spike in COVID-19 outbreaks'
Alberta continuing care facilities experience spike in COVID-19 outbreaks

For the readings in Lethbridge, Campbell said samples shared with researchers are from the entire city and some surrounding communities.

“We take a sample right at the main intake to the plant, so sort of a 24-hour composite sample of all the wastewater streams coming into the City of Lethbridge.  It doesn’t discriminate between south, west or north. And we also have a couple of regional customers such as Coalhurst and other small outlying communities that are attached to the city system.”

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Dr. Xiao Li Pang, co-lead with Pan-Alberta Network for Wastewater-based SARS-CoV-2 Monitoring, said the numbers show Lethbridge is seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases because of Omicron.

“From wave five, you can see quantification compared to wave four and wave three is dramatically increasing,” Dr. Pang said. “I think you can see even three times more than wave four.”

Populations are different in each area and samples may vary. Dr. Bonita Lee, the other co-lead on the monitoring project, said you can’t compare the data for a city like Lethbridge to Calgary, or even to Taber.

“The wastewater testing is non-discriminatory: anyone who is shedding virus mostly through fecal or stool into the wastewater is being captured. The wastewater can give people a better sense of what the overall disease burden is in a community,” she said.

You can see the wastewater tracker here and watch a video on how the data is interpreted.

Campbell said the only cost for Lethbridge to participate in the monitoring is the weekly sample shipping costs.

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