The University of Waterloo has reported COVID-19 being found in the wastewater of both Ron Eydt Village (REV) and Village 1 (V1) residences. This discovery comes from a pilot project put in place in late August to test wastewater at four student residences on campus for signs of the virus, however, there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 on campus as of Oct 1.
The pilot project takes samples throughout the week from UW residences to screen for COVID-19 in hopes of catching early signs of possible outbreaks. Researchers screen the wastewater samples to detect viral fragments of COVID-19 in stool, which indicates that an infected individual has been in the area.
While this may cause alarm for students, it is still undetermined how many cases could be linked to the positive sample. UW biology professor Mark Servos, the head of the project, explained: “The method is very specific, we know when we get a strong positive hit, we know for sure there’s COVID-19 in that sample…but we do not know how to convert a positive into a number that reflects how many students are infected. When you get COVID-19 you shed at different rates…so it could be one person or many people.”
Servos is also Canada’s research chair in water quality protection for UW and his lab has been looking at COVID-19 in municipal wastewater since last year. In March 2021, the Servos Lab was awarded $1 million in provincial funding to test for COVID-19 in the wastewater of over 10 regions in Ontario.
“We are getting positive hits here and there on campus which I don’t think we should be terribly surprised with the thousands of people congregating…the university has been very transparent with the pilot project and has put up the information on the website right away,” Servos added.
By getting an early notification of COVID-19 cases, UW hopes to prevent outbreaks at Waterloo residences such as the one in April 2021, which reported 27 COVID-19 cases linked to UW on-campus residences.
It is currently unknown how long this project will continue, and although UW will be returning to full in-person classes in January, the university has not updated or changed the residence COVID-19 mandates for the winter term.