KITCHENER -- Researchers at the University of Guelph have received $50,000 in federal funding to study how increasing levels of the virus that causes COVID-19 in wastewater could help detect a second wave.

The funding is from Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada grant. Engineering professor Ed McBean will use the funding to look at levels of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in community wastewater systems.

“Since COVID-19 is shed in the feces of infected people, the opportunity to use surveillance of wastewater to understand the extent of the COVID-19 virus within cities is enormous,” McBean said in a news release. “This research is assessing the necessary and critical protocols needed to allow a community to gain important, evidence-based knowledge regarding carriers of the COVID-19 virus.”


Samples are stored at -80 F until they can be analyzed (Supplied: Ed McBean)

Food science professor Lawrence Goodridge, who is an expert in food- and water-borne pathogens, is helping McBean with the study. Stantec, a design and consulting firm, has also contributed $14,000 to the project.

McBean has been studying COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March. He said surveilling wastewater could help understand how COVID-19 is carried in the community. If there is an increased concentration of the virus in wastewater, McBean said it could indicate the beginning of a new wave. He also said it can help monitor locations that could be contributing to higher infections in the community.

“Reliable procedures for wastewater surveillance are key to really understanding whether control of the virus is occurring," McBean said.

McBean's research will take samples from the City of Guelph's wastewater system. He will use DNA technologies to gather COVID-19 surveillance data.

“Ultimately, the intent is to provide governments at all levels with reliable procedures for wastewater surveillance to really understand whether control of the virus is occurring. It is an opportunity to understand caseload development of the virus as it evolves and detect whether a resurgence is occurring,” McBean said.

He added the work on wastewater detection could possibly help with other diseases.

“More widespread monitoring capacities as a means of surveillance for early warning represents an important opportunity for the future," McBean said.