The GNWT plans to begin testing wastewater samples in a few weeks for the presence of Covid-19, according to a news release on Sept. 10 from the Covid-19 Coordinating Secretariat.
“This form of surveillance has been found to uncover trends of Covid-19 in the community four to 10 days earlier than clinical data would by detecting the presence of the virus in asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic populations,” said spokesperson Mike Westwick.
The testing program will collect regular samples of wastewater, or sewage from Hay River, Yellowknife, Fort Smith, Inuvik, and Fort Simpson to test for coronavirus.
The samples are expected to cover about half of the territory’s population, and all of the isolation centres in Hay River, Fort Smith, Inuvik, and Yellowknife.
While the presence of the virus in wastewater samples does not necessarily mean there is active Covid transmission in the community, the collection of that information can serve as an early warning system for the NWT and help health authorities target advice to communities.
The chief public health officer would alert the public about positive wastewater results and provide guidance for those in the community who have arrived in the NWT after travelling outside the territory and who have developed Covid symptoms.
If the virus is found in wastewater there wouldn’t be aggressive containment measures because the result could be connected to imported travel cases being isolated. But such measures as limits on large-scale gatherings or mandatory masking in indoor public spaces would be considered, depending on the strength of the result.
Initial samples have been collected in Yellowknife and Hay River. Collection in the other three communities will begin in the coming weeks.
The equipment to start automatic sampling at regular intervals is expected to arrive in two-to-three weeks.
Funding of $100,000 from Indigenous Services Canada allowed the NWT to buy the testing technology and coordinate the program’s delivery.
“Our territory is using every tool at our disposal to prepare for another surge in infections across Canada,” said Premier Caroline Cochrane. “Establishing an early-warning system using wastewater samples will allow us to have a much better idea of whether Covid-19 is present in our territory, give communities advice, and get people tested if they need it.”
The Office of the Chief Public Health Officer will lead the effort in partnership with Municipal and Community Affairs and Environment and Natural Resources.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC)’s National Microbiology Laboratory will provide in-kind testing.
Marc Miller, federal Minister of Indigenous Services, said the wastewater surveillance program will help prevent further spread of Covid through collaboration with scientists from the PHAC and engaging First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.
“We must continue to support these initiatives that are essential to prevent, prepare and respond to stop the spread of any potential Covid-19 outbreak,” Miller said.