Peterborough Public Health to continue local wastewater surveillance after Ontario government cancels province-wide program

Wastewater surveillance for infectious disease will continue in Peterborough, with a decision by the local board of health to fund an existing partnership between Peterborough Public Health (PPH) and Trent University following the Ontario's government's recent announcement it is ending Ontario's wastewater surveillance program.

The decision was made at the board of health's meeting on Wednesday (June 12) following a presentation of a health unit staff report supported by medical officer of health Dr. Thomas Piggott.

Board of health chair and city councillor Joy Lachica told kawarthaNOW she is pleased with the board's decision.

"In the absence of the province's wastewater surveillance, our board of health has sagely voted to locally provide our community with the data it needs for preparedness and prevention," Lachica said.

Earlier this month, the Ontario government announced it was ending the $15-million program — which was launched in 2021 during the pandemic and is operated by universities and research sites with funding from the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks — on July 31.

The province said it is shutting down the program to "avoid duplication" with a federal wastewater surveillance program.

Wastewater surveillance is used by public health experts to track and monitor diseases, including COVID-19. This is done by testing community wastewater for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 from infected individuals — called the wastewater signal. The province has traditionally presented the wastewater signal for Ontario, as well as its sub-regions.

PPH — which serves the residents of Curve Lake and Hiawatha First Nations and the county and city of Peterborough — partnered with Trent University to participate in the provincial wastewater surveillance program, with the university's Natural Resources DNA Profiling and Forensic Centre led by Dr. Christopher Kyle performing the work.

"We're so grateful to Dr. Kyle and Trent University for their leadership and offer of partnership in this continued work," Lachica said.

The day following the health board meeting, Dr. Piggott posted on X (formerly Twitter) that he was "so pleased" that the board of health under Lachica's leadership supported continuing local wastewater surveillance and the partnership with Trent University.

The medical officer of health's post has been shared almost 300 times with almost 800 likes, with many commenters urging their own local health units to take similar action.

"Dr. Piggott's expertise and initiative on this front and our PPH board's decision is proving to be a beacon to others since announcing our decision," Lachica said. "Public health units across Ontario are also looking to keep their communities as informed and as safe as possible with new emerging pathogens, and as we face yet another COVID spike just this month."

Natalie Hamilton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, KawarthaNOW