Testing wastewater for COVID-19 an 'important tool for epidemiology for cities'

A Sudbury researcher, working to test COVID-19 in wastewater samples across the northeast, says the data is an important tool for health units. The project started last fall in Greater Sudbury, but other northeastern Ontario communities have followed suit, testing local sewage for levels of the virus.

Team from Health Sciences North Research Institute testing sewage in northeastern Ontario cities

Scientists testing wastewater for COVID-19 in northeastern Ontario communities are able to detect higher levels of the virus several days before people start experiencing symptoms. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

A Sudbury researcher working to test COVID-19 in wastewater samples across the northeast says the data is an important tool for health units.

The project started in the fall of 2020 for the City of Greater Sudbury. Other communities like North Bay, Timmins, Sault Ste Marie, Kapuskasing and Moosonee have followed suit, testing their sewage for levels of the virus.

"The wastewater can play an important tool for epidemiology for our cities," said Gustavo Ybazeta, with the Health Sciences North Research Institute (HSNRI) in Sudbury.

Gustavo Ybazeta, is a researcher at Health Sciences North Research Institute, in Sudbury. (Screenshot/CBC)

COVID-19 shows up in wastewater before people start showing symptoms. The data the scientists find is passed on to area health units. Public health officials can use that information to respond with either further testing, shutting down a facility or an institution or other responses.

For example, Ybazeta's team detected higher levels of COVID-19 recently in the wastewater around the jail in North Bay.

"We were able to detect some of the presence of the virus in advance with the outbreak in North Bay. We were giving reports to the city and the public health unit."

They passed their findings on to the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit. The health unit shut down the jail for two weeks to slow the spread of the virus.

"We hope that this will continue in the future. It's something that can really help our response."

Ybazeta and his team have funding to continue the testing of wastewater until March 2022, but he's hoping the provincial government will fund it beyond that.

Scientists across the north are testing wastewater for COVID-19. What is that information being used for? We asked Gustavo Ybazeta of the Health Sciences North Research Institute in Sudbury. He's one of the researchers working on this. 8:36

With files from Martha Dillman


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