Sunday, November 22, 2020

Wastewater testing suggests virus surging in Saskatoon

SASKATOON, SK--AUGUST 31/2020 - 0902 news covid wastewater - Dr. Kerry McPhedran, Dr. Markus Brinkmann, and Saskatoon Wastewater Treatment Plant manager Mike Sadowski, left to right, are part of a team researching whether wastewater can give us clues about COVID-19 transmission in the community. Photo taken in Saskatoon, SK on Monday, August 31, 2020. (Saskatoon StarPhoenix/Matt Smith)

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A sampling from Nov. 15 found the amount of virus in the sample increased 2 1/2 times over the previous week.

Researchers at the University of Regina say they have also partnered with their respective municipality and have begun work on testing samples taken from that city’s sewers.

U of R environmental proteomics scientist Dr. Tzu-Chiao Chao says the city was “very forthcoming” in providing samples but cautioned it would likely take weeks to develop a model to test accurately. He says he and his colleagues may liaise with the team in Saskatoon to compare methods before releasing results.

“Obviously once the whole thing goes into the sewer system, everything mixes. It’s not as straightforward as testing directly for the source,” he said.

He said the test might not always be fast enough to provide a warning of future outbreaks but could be a good way of measuring the overall number of people who have COVID-19 in a given area, including people who do not have symptoms.

U of R assistant biology professor Dr. Nicole Hansmaier hopes their work, coupled with other public health measures, can help the city weather the second wave of COVID-19 infections.

“I’m thinking of all my students, who all want to come back to campus and have a nice student life,” she said.

“I’m very hopeful that wastewater surveillance, the vaccine and everything can come smoothly together.”

Brinkmann said his lab’s work is fresh out of funding. They had managed to support it up to this point, he said, by cobbling together cash from other projects at the U of S and some in-kind contributions from the City of Saskatoon. But he says they will now need dedicated funding to continue their testing work.

“I think this is the last report we can provide with university funding,” he said.

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