Wastewater monitoring program will help detect presence of COVID-19, including new variant of the virus

“Wastewater surveillance serves as an additional tool that the health unit can employ in conjunction with other sources of information, such as testing data, in effectively understanding and responding to COVID within our communities.” – Dr. Lisa Simon


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The City is participating in a province-wide initiative to monitor for COVID-19 in wastewater.
The monitoring program begins this week and involves the City providing samples from the Wastewater Treatment Facility to labs that will run analysis to determine the amount of COVID-19 present.
Studies have shown that a significant proportion of people with active COVID-19 infections shed the virus in their stool, sometimes even before their symptoms start. Barrie’s Wastewater Treatment Facility collects and treats wastewater from across the city, which allows for centralized measuring of the level of the COVID-19 genetic material (known as RNA) present in the wastewater.
This data can help shed light on whether the number of infected people in Barrie is increasing, decreasing, or staying the same. 
“Wastewater surveillance serves as an additional tool that the health unit can employ in conjunction with other sources of information, such as testing data, in effectively understanding and responding to COVID within our communities,” said Dr. Lisa Simon, associate medical officer of health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit.
The Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks is supporting Ontario Tech University to run the testing and analysis on the samples. The Wastewater Treatment Facility will courier samples directly to Ontario Tech University’s lab in Oshawa for analysis.
Additionally, as requested by the Province and in further support of the initiative, the City will be providing samples directly to the University of Ottawa. The samples will be from the Wastewater Treatment Facility and from the collection system near Roberta Place. The samples will help the University of Ottawa with their ongoing research into the new B.1.1.7 UK variant of the virus.
This initiative poses no risk to the public or City workers. Wastewater systems are closed off from the public and there is currently no epidemiological evidence that wastewater is a route of transmission of COVID-19. Wastewater workers will continue to follow routine practices to prevent exposure to wastewater.
The COVID-19 wastewater surveillance initiative is part of Ontario’s COVID-19 Fall Preparedness Plan to quickly identify, manage and prevent outbreaks. Ontario is investing $12.2 million over the next two years to partner with and support Ontario universities and municipalities that are conducting important research to advance COVID-19 detection in wastewater and relief efforts across Ontario.
This innovation could help detect early signals and trends, ensuring public health measures can be timely and targeted. Ontario’s province-wide approach is so far the most comprehensive in Canada.

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