COVID-19 variants detected in Ottawa’s wastewater

OTTAWA — For the first time, the COVID-19 variants of concern have been detected in Ottawa’s wastewater.

New data from the University of Ottawa and CHEO monitoring COVID-19 in Ottawa’s sewers shows levels of the COVID-19 variant in Ottawa.

“This is definitely low level, it’s definitely lower than anything that we could quantify. It’s basically just a signal,” said Patrick D’Aoust, an environmental engineering officer at the University of Ottawa.

“For us, really that’s just an indication that means we have to be diligent and really start looking at this really closely.”

The CHEO Research Institute expects more information to be available on Friday.

On Wednesday, medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said 73 variants of concern have been identified in Ottawa, and further testing is underway to determine the variant.

There are currently 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19 variants in Ottawa. Eight cases are the variant first identified in the United Kingdom, while two cases are the variant first found in South Africa.

D’Aoust says researchers plan to increase surveillance on Ottawa’s wastewater for variants.

CHEO Research Institute research associate Dr. Tyson Graber and the team developed a test to determine the level of variant strains in wastewater samples.

Meantime, the wastewater data shows the level of COVID-19 in Ottawa is increasing three weeks after the lockdown ended.

“The last couple of days, they’ve been on the rise,” said D’Aoust.

“Right when the province really loosened the restrictions in Ottawa, it coincided exactly with the low point of the wastewater signals.

“For the last week and a half, two weeks, it’s starting to just creep up slowly – nothing alarming. In the last couple of days, the rate has accelerated a little bit. For sure, we’re paying close attention to this going forward because I think we might be on to something.”

The wastewater monitoring project dates back to early June 2020. Ottawa was the first community in Canada to conduct and report on the amount of COVID-19 in the local wastewater on a regular basis.

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