‘We’re strapped to a rocket right now:’ Alarm at sky-high COVID-19 levels in Ottawa’s sewage

OTTAWA — If you have any doubt about how hard the second wave of COVID-19 is hitting Ottawa, keep your eye on the poop.

Or more precisely, the research project at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario that is measuring COVID-19 in the city’s wastewater.

It is not a pretty picture.

In the last week, researchers have been shocked by the high levels of the virus found in Ottawa’s wastewater.

“We’re strapped to a rocket right now, unfortunately”, said Alex MacKenzie, a pediatrician and researcher at CHEO. “It’s two to three days early warning.  It’s a single test for 900,000 people.”

The wastewater collection is being done by researchers at the CHEO Research Institute and the University of Ottawa. Wastewater is collected five days a week and transported to a lab, where viral levels are tested and reported the next morning.

Ottawa is one of the first cities in North America to conduct such daily readings.

At city council Wednesday, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches told city council the wastewater study is a disturbing indicator of how hard the second wave is hitting the capital.

“It’s not related to anyone taking tests. It doesn’t have the lag time,” she said. “This does tell us what was measured in the water.”

The researchers at CHEO have been taken aback by the results, surprised at how much disease they’re finding.

“We can say with certainty, this is 3-6 times greater than it was on Oct. 6. It is functioning as a very reliable indicator of COVID”, MacKenzie said. “It’s something that tells us almost in real time what’s happening in the community”.

He said the levels being measured in October are twice as high as he found in the spring. He also said the results of lockdown instituted in hotspots like Ottawa, Toronto and Peel, will not be seen for several days or longer.

“It’s going to take a week to two weeks for the lockdown to take effect.”

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