Our Researchers Discuss Tracking COVID-19 Omicron variant in Wastewater


Ottawa, Ontario — Tuesday January 4, 2022

Dr. Alex MacKenzie and Dr. Tyson Graber, with uOttawa engineering professor Robert Delatolla, lead a multidisciplinary team using wastewater surveillance to monitor COVID-19 community levels. The COVID-19 causing SARS-CoV-2 virus is shed in the intestine and passed in this manner into the wastewater. Measurement of RNA from SARS-CoV-2 represents a single-point metric reflecting COVID activity in a population served by the wastewater facility, whether a single long-term care residence or, in our case, the City of Ottawa.

The team was one of the first in North America to report daily levels on a publicly accessible website. For a daily presentation of the data, please visit https://613covid.ca/wastewater/.

The Ottawa initiative helped in the formulation of a $12 million province-wide Wastewater Surveillance Initiative in Fall 2020 led by the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks. As of August 2021, all 34 public health units had joined the initiative with approximately 160 sampling locations covering over 80% of Ontarians. In addition, it has allowed the monitoring individual facilities such as penitentiaries and long-term care facilities. The CHEO RI team helped lead the country in developing variant specific PCR assays. Efforts are underway to apply this approach to RSV, influenza and other pathogens. In addition we are continuing to develop a means of measuring viral protein in the wastewater, far more sensitive than RNA. There have been 7 publications, including Quantitative analysis of SARS-CoV-2 RNA from wastewater solids in communities with low COVID-19 incidence and prevalence and SARS-CoV-2 Protein in Wastewater Mirrors COVID-19 Prevalence, arising from the initiative to date as well as an Ontario Science Table Brief. The work has been widely reported by the media locally, nationally and internationally.

The team was most recently featured speaking about Omicron’s presence in wastewater on CBC Ottawa Morning and in the National Post speaking about Omicron’s presence in wastewater.

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