N.W.T. expands COVID-19 wastewater testing to Fort Liard

·2 min read
A file photo of toilet paper. The virus that causes COVID-19 can be found in infected people's feces. (Steve Silva/CBC - image credit)
A file photo of toilet paper. The virus that causes COVID-19 can be found in infected people's feces. (Steve Silva/CBC - image credit)

Human waste will now be tested in Fort Liard, N.W.T., for traces of COVID-19 that could provide an early warning signal for future outbreaks.

The territory announced the expansion of the wastewater testing program in a news release Tuesday. Fort Liard is the seventh community in the territory to add the testing to their toolbox of COVID-19 prevention and detection measures.

"Fort Liard was identified as a priority community for wastewater testing because of its proximity to northern B.C. communities that have seen a sharp spike in COVID-19 cases," the release reads.

Fort Liard is the only N.W.T. community to experience a localized outbreak of COVID-19, in January. Earlier this month, health officials reported traces of the virus that causes COVID-19 in wastewater samples collected in the community in March.

The system sees small samples of wastewater collected at source and transferred to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources' Taiga Laboratory and the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, for quality assurance.

"Positive test results … in a community with no known COVID-19 cases can help public health officials to take action that will reduce viral spread," according to the release.

Results are generally known within 5-10 days, the release states. The program is expected to be in place for the next 12 months.

Dr. Kami Kandola, the territory's chief public health officer, has frequently pointed to the wastewater testing program as a key part of the territory's ability to "test and trace" COVID-19 in communities — a prerequisite for lifting pandemic restrictions on social gatherings and travel.

With Fort Liard's addition to the program, over 50 per cent of the territory's population is covered by the wastewater surveillance program, the release notes.

The program is partly funded by the federal government. The other communities with wastewater testing are Yellowknife, Inuvik, Hay River, Fort Smith, Fort Simpson and Norman Wells.