COVID-19 levels in wastewater reach presummer levels

Analysis of wastewater in Haldimand-Norfolk and Brant counties confirms what can be seen across the province — COVID-19 is gearing up for winter.

“The COVID-19 wastewater signal in Brant reached its highest point since June at the end of October,” Ryan Spiteri, communications manager with the Brant County Health Unit, said in an email to The Spectator.

Analyzing wastewater is one way public health officials gauge the prevalence of diseases like COVID-19 in a given community, as people with COVID-19 can shed the virus in their stool before their symptoms start.

The rise and fall of COVID-19 cases “are in line” with changes in wastewater data, making it an effective indicator, according to a statement from the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit.

Though wastewater levels have risen, they remain lower than at the peaks of previous waves in January and April.

Brant County has reported COVID-related 98 deaths since the start of the pandemic, including two over the past week.

As of Tuesday, there were 22 residents being treated for COVID-19 in hospital.

The health unit is currently managing seven outbreaks of COVID-19, including five at retirement or long-term care homes and two at Brantford General Hospital, where 20 patients and two staff members have tested positive.

The largest ongoing outbreak is at Tranquility Place Retirement Home in Brantford, where two staff and 30 residents tested positive. One resident, a woman in her 70s, died.

The health unit overseeing Brant County and Brantford echoed chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore’s recent call for masking in indoor public spaces.

“Evidence suggests that high-quality, well-fitted masks can help prevent spread of respiratory disease,” Spiteri said, noting residents should refresh themselves on how to wear masks effectively.

Brant County recently issued a joint letter with the health unit in Haldimand-Norfolk encouraging staff and students in area schools to wear masks in indoor public settings such as schools and daycares.

“Both health units were notified of higher-than-normal school absences in our jurisdictions,” said Spiteri.

“BCHU felt it was important to reinforce existing guidance for the mitigation of respiratory illness within schools.”

He added the unsigned letter was approved by Brant’s acting medical officer of health, Dr. Rebecca Comley.

In a statement to The Spectator on Tuesday, Haldimand-Norfolk’s health unit said in issuing the letter it was “following ministry guidelines in regards to masking.”

After reporting last week that four residents died of COVID, on Wednesday Haldimand-Norfolk’s Health Unit added another death to the tracker, bringing the total to 93 residents for whom COVID-19 was ruled to be their cause of death.

Another 36 people in Haldimand-Norfolk were determined to have died of other causes while also testing positive for the virus.

Twenty residents are currently in hospital with COVID-19, with none in the ICU.

The health unit’s statement to The Spectator said that according to data provided by Public Health Ontario, “the increase in deaths due to COVID that began in September 2022 has slowed and may have peaked as of November 5.”

In response to rising rates of respiratory illness in Haldimand-Norfolk, the health unit is launching a “risk rater” on its website “to help the public understand their risk and what they can do to decrease their risk of respiratory illness.”

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator