Expanding the wastewater-based epidemiology toolkit for monitoring COVID‑19 community transmission in Canada
As the outbreak of COVID‑19 wears on and economies begin to re-open, there is a dire need for early warning signals that can catch new surges of outbreaks in Canada. Because SARS-CoV-2 is found in the stool of infected patients, the virus is also detectable in municipal wastewater receiving human waste from a larger population during an outbreak. The molecular signature of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater therefore may be a useful indicator of early outbreaks at municipal levels. Yet, several knowledge gaps exist before major municipalities, such as Metro Vancouver, can utilize SARS-CoV-2 monitoring as a predictive epidemiology tool, including a lack of optimized viral quantification and recovery and no approaches to study the genomic diversity of the virus in wastewater. The purpose of this research is to partner with Metro Vancouver to expand wastewater-based epidemiology methodology to evaluate SARS-CoV-2 recoveries and best practices for quantification in wastewater, as well as develop new approaches for metagenomic sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 in such samples. Metro Vancouver will utilize the research results to inform the Canadian public utilities sector of the fate of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater treatment, as well as share the data with public health agencies, such as the BC Center for Disease and Control, to augment current population modelling of COVID-19. The developed methods and results from this project will be thereby utilized to monitor community transmission of COVID‑19 within a major Canadian municipality, to characterize the fate of SARS-CoV-2 during wastewater treatment, to provide an early warning of new waves of illness, and to ascertain the effectiveness of public health outbreak mitigation measures.