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Durham region tests sewage water to track and predict COVID-19 cases

National Post Tuesday, 30 June 2020 ()
Researchers at an Ontario university will test a region’s sewage water to track and predict new potential cases of COVID-19 in an effort to identify virus hotspot areas.

Biological sciences professor Andrea Kirkwood, from Ontario Tech University, and the Durham Regional Health Department and Durham Region Works Department, will sample weekly untreated wastewater from various water pollution control plants in the region.

In each sample, the team will look for traces of the novel coronavirus and use the data collected to create a scientific model that can predict potential outbreaks and find potential hotspot areas.

“This is a good opportunity for Ontario Tech University to participate in this unique research project,” said Durham Region’s medical officer of health Robert Kyle. “The results obtained from this study could potentially add another useful tool in the surveillance and advanced identification of possible COVID-19 activity occurring within certain areas of the community.”

With the project, there’s also a possibility for more targeted testing. For example, the team can test wastewater from long-term care homes. “(This) means there will be an early warning system in place for vulnerable populations,” a statement from the university read.

The team intends to use the data to help inform the decisions and responses of public health authorities in dealing with future outbreaks.

The testing of wastewater can be particularly helpful in staving off COVID-19 as many patients are asymptomatic and can therefore transmit the disease before a person is diagnosed. In some cases, the tools used for sampling can pull positive infection data up to five days before residents begin showing symptoms.
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