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Ontario extends funding for COVID-19 wastewater surveillance in Guelph

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As subvariants of COVID-19 persist, the Ontario government has extended funding for the University of Guelph’s wastewater community surveillance program to keep tabs on the virus under limited PCR testing.

Recently, the Ontario government committed an additional $24.7 million to continue testing for COVID-19 in community wastewater for at least another year, alongside a dozen other universities and research institutions that are part of a provincial network for public health units.

Sampling takes place in more than 170 locations across the province, providing a snapshot of community spread for about 75% of Ontario’s population.

The province is currently experiencing its sixth wave and an overall rise in its wastewater signal for the virus with Omicron BA.2 as the dominant subvariant.

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“Having the capacity to monitor COVID-19 in this way will provide important information, and I’m very pleased that the University of Guelph will continue its fine work,” announced Mike Harris, MPP for Kitchener-Conestoga, in a statement.

Dr. Lawrence Goodridge, a food science professor in the Ontario Agricultural College, leads wastewater testing on the U of G campus and in Guelph, Orangeville and other cities in the Niagara Region. He said that monitoring wastewater for the virus is even more important nowadays for detecting and predicting infection trends.

“Our team here at U of G was one of the first in Canada to launch surveillance of campus wastewater and we have become the leaders in Ontario, conducting the most comprehensive on-campus testing in Ontario,” Goodridge said in a statement.

Goodridge has worked since fall 2020 with U of G colleagues Dr. Ed McBean, a professor in the School of Engineering, and Dr. Heather Murphy in the Department of Pathobiology, in gathering wastewater samples. With assistance from Dr. Marc Habash, a professor in the School of Environmental Sciences, the team has conducted lab tests to spot the SARS-CoV-2 virus in collected water and carry out genetic sequencing on the virus.

The team typically takes wastewater samples three times per week in the communities and five days per week on campus. It takes on average seven to 10 days for samples to undergo genomic testing and analysis.

Dr. Malcolm Campbell, vice-president of research at U of G, said he’s pleased that the provincial government is continuing to fund wastewater monitoring.

“From the onset of the pandemic, University of Guelph researchers have been at the forefront of this innovative surveillance program, which provides us with a clearer picture of community-level exposure to the evolving virus and has informed our collective response,” Campbell said in a statement.

Guelph’s wastewater surveillance dashboard can be viewed here.

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