Amid new concerns over a highly contagious Omicron subvariant of the COVID-19-causing virus, the announcement that Ontario will extend funding for wastewater surveillance is good news, says a University of Guelph scientist.
Late last month, the provincial government committed an additional $24.7 million to continue testing for COVID-19 in community wastewater for another year. That’s welcome news to Dr. Lawrence Goodridge, a food science professor in the Ontario Agricultural College who leads wastewater testing on the U of G campus and in several communities in the province.
With restricted COVID-19 testing for individuals, Goodridge says monitoring wastewater for the virus is even more important for detecting and predicting infection trends.
“We will continue to sample Guelph, Orangeville and cities in the Niagara Region,” said Goodridge, who is the Leung Family Professor in Food Safety and director of U of G’s Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety.
U of G conducts regional COVID-19 sampling
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. Along with Dr. Marc Habash, a professor in the School of Environmental Sciences, he has conducted lab tests to spot the SARS-CoV-2 virus in collected water and carry out genetic sequencing on the virus.
Monitoring wastewater is intended to track the spread of the virus before people begin showing symptoms. Sampling enables public health units to identify and respond to potential outbreaks.
Under the Ontario initiative, U of G is one of 13 universities and research institutions that are part of a provincial network ensuring public health units have access to wastewater data. Sampling takes place in more than 170 locations across the province, covering more than 75 per cent of Ontario’s population.
“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,” said Goodridge earlier this year.
“I am pleased that the provincial government will continue to fund wastewater monitoring,” said Dr. Malcolm Campbell, vice-president (research).
“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.”
“This investment demonstrates that the Government of Ontario always puts data and science at the forefront of decision- and policy-making,” said Mike Harris, MPP for Kitchener-Conestoga. “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.”
Dr. Lawrence Goodridge