There’s a new way to track down the COVID-19 virus in Calgary.
A collaboration between the University of Calgary, the City of Calgary and the Alberta Health Service has provided data tracking traces of the virus found in the city’s wastewater.
This information can be found on the Center for Health Informatics (CHI) website and shows real-time, real-time SARS-CoV-2 RNA (the virus responsible for COVID-19), including all traces in three different sewage collection zones in Calgary.
The data can help detect COVID-19 outbreaks early and identify areas in the city where infection rates are high.
Alberta Health Services sees this information as an additional tool to understand how the virus is spreading in the community, as high levels of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater are followed by an increase in clinically diagnosed cases.
According to Dr. Michael Parkins, associate professor at the Cumming School of Medicine and division director for the Infectious Disease Division at AHS, “wastewater data is unbiased and comprehensive.”
“It captures all cases in a defined population, including symptomatic and asymptomatic cases – not just the diagnosed cases,” Parkins continued in a news release.
Wastewater tracking data can even be helpful in helping government officials make decisions about what can be safely reopened.
“Policymakers may be interested in putting wastewater tracing in specific locations where they may be able to spot the outbreaks earlier and limit their spread,” said Danielle Southern, senior researcher at CHI.
“The wastewater could give us some forecasting tools. Say you see it in a high school, that is, it’s likely to be around your community, while in a hospital those people are likely to be confined to that one place. “
Interested parties can visit the Center for Health Informatics online. There you will find a map of Calgary divided into three areas based on the collection zones for each Calgary city water treatment facility.
The map sits next to a graph with data points that track all traces of SARS-CoV-2 found in the wastewater at any given point in time, through July 2020, when researchers began collecting samples.
“Each data point represents a 24 hour period of time a 100 ml sample is taken every 15 minutes to produce a 10 liter sample,” says Parkins. “We then test to find clues about the genetic material of the SARS-CoV-2 RNA.”
The CHI tracks a number of other data sets, including COVID-19 outbreaks in Alberta, variants of the virus in the province, and weekly deaths by age group.
This tracking has expanded over the past 11 months based on questions the CHI has received from policy makers and government officials.
“Originally it was” What action should we take? “, And now it turns to” what can we safely reopen? “Postponed,” says Southern.
The researchers hope to be able to exchange more precise information from site-specific sampling soon.
“Wastewater testing has tremendous potential in keeping our communities safe and detecting outbreaks before they reach critical mass,” says Parkins. “The further we can take this research, the better.”