Montreal

Quebec to resume monitoring wastewater for COVID-19

The province's Health Ministry has given Quebec's institute of public health (INSPQ) the mandate to carry out the surveillance, an INSPQ spokesperson said in an email Tuesday.

News comes after similar program in Ontario detects resurgence of virus

Charron Island, situated between Montreal and the South Shore, has a wastewater treatment plant known as the Centre d'épuration Rive-Sud. Quebec is going to start testing wastewater again for SARS-CoV-2. (Submitted by the Ministry of Transport)

Quebec will resume the monitoring of wastewater to better understand the spread of COVID-19.

The province's Health Ministry has given Quebec's institute of public health (INSPQ) the mandate to carry out the surveillance, an INSPQ spokesperson said in an email Tuesday.

This news comes just three days after it was revealed that wastewater surveillance data in Ontario suggests there are "early signs of a resurgence" of COVID-19 viral load across that province, said Dr. Peter Juni.

Juni is the scientific director of Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory table and also a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Toronto.  He said the wastewater data shows it is vital for Ontario residents to get booster shots.

COVID-19 monitoring studies from the University of Saskatchewan and University of Regina continue to show high levels of the virus in Saskatoon's wastewater as well.

Early on in the pandemic, Quebec was at the forefront of research into testing wastewater for SARS-CoV-2 as a way to track the progression of its spread.

The approach is now being used with increased frequency across North America to assist with the early detection of a rise in cases, spot neighbourhood outbreaks and prepare for an eventual rise in hospitalizations.

But funding for Quebec's pilot project ran out in December, just as the highly contagious Omicron variant was spreading rapidly among the population.

The province stopped making PCR tests available for the general population weeks later, on Jan. 5, after it was overwhelmed by the demand.

Experts say testing wastewater is a useful tool in monitoring the spread of COVID-19.

"This method is really meant to complement existing systems," said Prativa Baral, an epidemiologist and doctoral candidate at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Back in January, she said wastewater surveillance is particularly useful when there aren't rigorous testing measures in place.

Baral described it as "an excellent opportunity to get some pooled community-level data that would allow us to monitor our trends broadly."

Quebec Health Ministry spokesperson Marie-Hélène Émond says the goal is to develop wastewater testing methods to "have the most accurate picture possible of the situation."

The INSPQ and the Environment Ministry are involved in the wastewater assessment project — a project that will add to the various existing tools for monitoring the spread of COVID-19, she said.

The INSPQ describes this field as still being in its infancy and more studies and experiments are necessary to support its implementation, said Émond.

"Surveillance of COVID-19 in wastewater is a rapidly evolving field that may be of public health interest in detecting and interpreting disease circulation in the population," she said.

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