Toronto is hoping wastewater will be used as an additional tool to track the spread of COVID-19 in the community.
Earlier this week, the city’s top doctor said staff would be collaborating with academic partners to launch a pilot project to understand more about this method of surveillance.
“What we have figured out thus far is that it does correlate with clinical data,” Dr. Eileen de Villa said Monday at the city’s board of health meeting.
She added the city’s plan is to make data being collected from these sites accessible as early as next week.
De Villa also said there may be evidence of a plateau of the Omicron variant from recent wastewater surveillance at the city’s four treatment plants.
This has also seen by Andrea Kirkwood, an environmental biologist at Ontario Tech University, who has been studying wastewater disease throughout the pandemic in Durham and Simcoe.
“We’re able to detect Omicron in all of our wastewater treatment sites and it spiked between Christmas and New Year’s and then it dropped,” Kirkwood said.
With the province’s testing capacity now limited to high-risk individuals, experts say your waste could be a major tool in determining the magnitude of the virus in the broader population.
“That tool box that public health had been relying on has become depleted,” said Robert Michael Mckay, executive director at the University of Windsor’s Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research.
“In terms of a leading indicator of disease within the community, wastewater is probably the best indicator we have right now.”
Municipalities like Ottawa are leading in COVID-19 wastewater surveillance, reporting the data on a regular basis.
Dr. Doug Manuel, a senior scientist with The Ottawa Hospital, says sewage may also be able to identify asymptomatic carriers, giving a more complete picture of virus spread.
“People shed SARS-CoV-2 when they’re asymptomatic, or very early. So you can pick people up earlier in wastewater than if you wait for them to become symptomatic,” he said.