Ontario university looking for COVID-19 in the drain

With school openings fast approaching, there has been heightened speculation on ways to isolate potential COVID-19 outbreaks. Some colleges and universities in the U.S., such as Syracuse and University of California, have been looking to wastewater streams to detect early signs of coronavirus. The theory goes that if they can find spikes in sewage in a particular residence hall, they can test those students immediately.

Closer to home, researchers with the faculty of science at Ontario Tech University are working with the Durham Region Health DepartmentDurham Region Works Department, and other partners to check untreated sewage samples for traces of the novel coronavirus as a model to predict new cases and identify new hot spots in anticipation of a second wave of viral infections.

If successful, their testing may become an early detection tool that can identify hotspots via wastewater to provide a valuable early warning – up to five days before symptoms appear in those infected – which could help reduce the spread of the disease via schools, long-term care homes and other establishments.

Earlier this year, the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) warned that “as long as the pandemic is still active, it should be assumed by anyone working on a sanitary drainage system that the virus is present.” As such, IAPMO advises plumbers and other trade professionals who may come into contact with water and aerosols when working on sanitary systems or sewers to wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE), including a full face shield that is worn over safety glasses, and gloves.