COVID-19 wastewater monitoring is 'in the pipeline,' says N.B.'s top doctor

·3 min read
Wastewater monitoring for COVID-19 can give officials an early indication of viral trends. (Submitted by Graham Gagnon - image credit)
Wastewater monitoring for COVID-19 can give officials an early indication of viral trends. (Submitted by Graham Gagnon - image credit)

New Brunswick will "definitely" implement COVID-19 wastewater monitoring, according to the province's chief medical officer of health.

But Dr. Jennifer Russell remains tight-lipped about any details.

"We are in discussion with some external partners. I can't share anything publicly right now, but I can definitely say it's in the works," she said.

"So it's coming. It's in the pipeline. Excuse the pun."

Some provinces have been using wastewater monitoring to project COVID-19 trends since last year, when new cases data became less reliable due to restricted PCR testing.

Last month, the Public Health Agency of Canada launched a new COVID-19 wastewater surveillance dashboard to illustrate trends in various jurisdictions, and help citizens make decisions about personal precautions, but New Brunswick is not represented.

In New Brunswick, only the City of Moncton currently collects wastewater samples to monitor viral levels as part of a research project at Dalhousie University. The data is shared with Public Health.

At the end of April, the Department of Health confirmed to CBC it was looking into expanding wastewater monitoring in the province to provide a clearer picture of COVID-19 transmission and early detection of COVID activity.

"At this time, usability for our own population and sewage system is not as clearly defined as it is for some of the larger cities in Canada," a spokesperson had said.

"As we continue to assess usability and feasibility, additional information may be shared in the future."

Government of New Brunswick
Government of New Brunswick

Russell declined to say how soon a wastewater monitoring system could be in place.

She also declined to say whether New Brunswick is considering a provincewide system or just monitoring in some of the larger centres.

"I can't tell you that either. I'm very sorry."

Asked how soon an announcement could be made, Russell said only, "It's coming soon. Stay tuned."

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is shed in the feces of people infected with the virus in a form of genetic material called ribonucleic acid (RNA), which can be found in the wastewater.

This shedding typically begins five to seven days before people develop symptoms, which is why results can be used as an early warning trigger.

The wastewater surveillance project at Dalhousie University has been testing samples for COVID-19 indicators at the Halifax region's four main wastewater treatment plants, Dalhousie student residences and at multiple other communities and locations since December 2020.

The research team started detecting Omicron in wastewater last November, for example, weeks before the COVID-19 variant was officially confirmed in Nova Scotia.

New Brunswick also has at least 11 Omicron subvariants now, including its first confirmed case of BA.5.

Two more New Brunswickers have died from COVID-19, and 28 people are hospitalized because of the virus, including three in intensive care, the weekly COVIDWatch report released Tuesday shows.

The regional health authorities, meanwhile, report having 66 COVID patients. That includes people hospitalized for the virus, as well as those who were initially admitted for another reason and later tested positive.

A total of 893 new cases of COVID-19 have been reported in New Brunswick, including 533 confirmed through 2,864 PCR lab tests, and 360 from people self-reporting their positive rapid test results.

There are 52.6 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers now boosted, 88.1 per cent have received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, and 93.2 per cent have received one dose.

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