Dr. Kami Kandola, the chief public health officer for the NWT, says wastewater testing will help determine whether or not the virus that causes Covid-19 is present in a community.
NNSL file photo

The GNWT has installed equipment in Hay River to test wastewater – also known as sewage – for the presence or absence of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

“An autosampler device was installed recently in Hay River,” said Jay Boast, a spokesperson for the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA), in written comments to The Hub. “The autosampler creates a composite sample over a period of time by taking small 30 ml samples every 15 minutes and combining them. It is anticipated that the first samples will be sent out soon.”

Weekly grab samples were taken in Hay River from Aug. 25 to Sept. 29, Boast added. “These were not composite samples and were simply used to calibrate equipment and processes.”

The GNWT sampling in a number of communities, which was announced in early September, is an initiative of the Covid-19 Secretariat and Chief Public Health Officer Kami Kandola.

Hay River joins a number of other communities in the initiative – Fort Simpson, Yellowknife, Fort Smith and Inuvik.

Speaking during a Nov. 26 media availability, Kandola said it is one of the most ambitious wastewater testing programs in the country.

“This allows us to see whether the Covid-19 virus is present in a community and how strong that signal is,” she said. “It will help target advice on testing and self-isolation to recent travellers and put local measures in place to prevent transmission if applied. And ultimately it will better prepare us to respond to outbreaks and monitor our containment efforts.”

Kandola said there was nothing to report from testing during November in Yellowknife, Fort Simpson and Inuvik.

She noted that Fort Smith has now begun to send samples for testing.

The Hay River autosampler required additional plumbing before being put in place last week, she said. “So Hay River will be sending their samples shortly, but they haven’t sent their sampling as of yet.”

As of Nov. 29, there had been no positive cases of Covid-19 in Hay River and the South Slave region.

Mayor Kandis Jameson is pleased to see the beginning of the wastewater sampling in Hay River.

“It’s good to know what we’re up against,” said Jameson. “It’s good to know as much as you can about the enemy you’re fighting.”

Such testing elsewhere has been found to uncover trends of Covid-19 four to 10 days earlier than clinical data by detecting the presence of the virus in asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic populations.

The presence of the coronavirus in wastewater samples does not necessarily indicate there is active transmission of Covid-19 in a community.

Indigenous Services Canada provided $100,000 to allow the GNWT to purchase the necessary testing equipment and to co-ordinate the program.

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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