Region will end its wastewater surveillance next month, alongside other cities

The region and the rest of the province will end testing at most wastewater facilities by July 31, an initiative that launched in 2021 and was used to quickly detect various strains of COVID-19.

Since then, it has been vital in detecting other emerging viruses like influenza and Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

Federal wastewater testing is expected to expand in Ontario instead. However, since the news came out, medical experts and politicians have been critical of the province dropping the program.

In a statement to CityNews, the Canada Research Chair in water quality protection, University of Waterloo professor Mark Servos, said he found the decision made very disappointing. Servos helped lead wastewater monitoring in the region.

“This means that many communities, including Waterloo Region, will be left without this valuable tool to monitor respiratory viruses such as COVID-19, influenza and RSV.”

The University of Waterloo originally partnered with the region to sample wastewater from facilities in Cambridge and Kitchener. They tested for fragments of viruses that are shed by both asymptomatic and symptomatic people about five days a week in Kitchener and three days a week in Cambridge.

That testing will now stop by the end of next month.

“During the recent pandemic, we learned that wastewater surveillance could be a critical tool for monitoring trends in both the prevalence of the disease and the rapid emergence of variants of concern. The Ontario Wastewater Surveillance Initiative was world-class and provided valuable information to inform and support public health during the pandemic.  Termination of this program will weaken our future response to emerging pathogens and other substances of concern,” said Servos.

Last week both the Ontario Green Party Leader and MPP Catherine Fife publicly came out calling on the province to preserve the funds.

Green Party Leader, Mike Schreiner, released a statement that said “Given the scope of Ontario’s wastewater testing program, the expansion of federal testing into the province is insufficient to maintain the standard we have established.”

In a statement, the Region of Waterloo Public Health said “The surveillance Initiative operated by the Ministry of Environment Conservation and Parks will wind down by July 31, 2024. Wastewater surveillance data will continue to be found on the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 wastewater monitoring dashboard.”

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