Windsor

Could sewage hold the secrets to coronavirus numbers in Windsor? Research group hopes so

Most of the field research done by the University of Windsor is on hold because of COVID-19, but the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research hopes to get off the sidelines and into the campaign to stop the coronavirus​​​​​​​.

Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research proposes sewage study

Researchers in Windsor hope to study sewage for COVID-19. (Cal Tobin/CBC)

Most of the field research done by the University of Windsor is on hold because of COVID-19, but one group hopes to get off the sidelines and into the campaign to stop the coronavirus.

And the idea is to study feces in the city's sewage system. 

"It's called sewage surveillance. It doesn't sound very glamorous, but it's important and we're realizing now that by looking for the virus in influent at waste water treatment plants, we can get a better idea for how many people in the community might actually be infected," said Mike McKay, executive director of the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research (GLIER).

"This can also be important for monitoring any return of infections later in the year."

McKay said monitoring sewage is not new for the group, and that this initiative would be very timely. 

"We know that the virus is shed in human waste and makes its way to the watershed through the sewage system," he said. "We can actually test for the virus here at GLIER."

McKay said research in other cities around the world showed that the infection rate was much higher than the reported confirmed cases, after studying feces in the sewage.

But he assured people not to worry about the virus spreading through the water system. 

"All evidence suggests that once it's in the environment ... it doesn't last very long," said McKay, adding that waste water management is effective at removing viruses from sewage.

However, a sewage overflow incident could be problematic for spreading the virus, said McKay. 

The project still needs to be approved by local municipalities, but GLIER hopes to apply for grants soon and start the research in June. 

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