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The new tracking tool launched this month shows the amount of viral load per litre of untreated wastewater on a weekly basis. Graphic credit: Metro Vancouver

Metro Vancouver residents can now just click on a specific wastewater treatment plant over five regions to see a snapshot of the COVID-19 virus trend for that area.

The new tracking tool launched this month shows the amount of viral load per litre of untreated wastewater on a weekly basis. Results are sorted by sewerage areas, which are defined catchment areas around each wastewater treatment plant.

Metro Vancouver is working with the BC Centre for Disease Control’s public health laboratory and the University of British Columbia to track the presence and trends of the COVID-19 virus in the region’s wastewater system through sampling and testing.

“Despite the ongoing rollout of multiple vaccines within the region, we know that daily transmission rates remain relatively high and several variants of COVID-19 are within our communities,” said Sav Dhaliwal, chair of the Metro Vancouver Board of Directors, in a statement. “We are pleased to support the work of our local health authorities and university researchers in reaching a better understanding of the virus through innovative environmental testing at our facilities,” added Dhaliwal.

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The new digital map covers two Fraser sewerage areas, one serviced by Annacis Island and another by Northwest Langley. The other three areas include the Vancouver sewerage area at the Iona Island WWTP, the Lulu sewerage area, and the North Shore area at Lion’s Gate WWTP.

While the wastewater data can’t pinpoint the exact number of people who are shedding the virus in their feces, it can help local officials gauge whether a surge may be pending, even as much as two weeks prior to tests being confirmed in a laboratory setting.

“Studies have demonstrated that approximately 50% of COVID-19 cases have the virus in their feces,” said Dr. Natalie Prystajecky, program head of environmental microbiology at the BCCDC Public Health Laboratory. “Studying the virus in wastewater allows researchers to look at an entire population, rather than an individual person,” she added.

B.C. had 5,070 active COVID-19 cases as of March 12.

A team from the University of Calgary, Alberta Health Services, and the City of Calgary are also monitoring SARS-CoV-2 RNA and providing detailed wastewater data online.

The City of Ottawa has also been providing residents with detailed COVID-19 wastewater data. A graph with three plots online illustrates daily viral load for the nation’s capital, as well as seven-day mean and rolling average. The city has recently experienced a notable spike in its COVID-19 wastewater signal.

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