Find out where the virus is circulating
“We have the ability to measure the level of virus in the city, and also where in the city the virus circulates,” says Örmeci.
“We have correlated the test results with data from public health and are able to predict trends before they appear in clinical settings. Our results from Carleton’s wastewater have also shown good correlation with COVID-19 prevalence on campus and have helped the university in its decision making. ”
To make it all happen, members of Örmeci’s laboratory have worked long hours. To comply with the public health protocols, the researchers have divided their laboratory time in shifts, which has pushed some of the work outside the standard office hours.
And the development of the virus has required continuous innovation in testing methods. To adapt to changing circumstances and develop molecular methods for detecting variants of concern in wastewater, Örmeci has relied on the expertise of Alex Wong, associate professor of Carleton’s biology department.
“COVID-19 can really throw curveballs,” Örmeci says.
“At the end of December we had a vaccine and everyone was happy. Then they found out about the B.1.1.7 variant in the UK, and now other variants as well. We do not even know what some of these varieties are, even though they are already here. The coronavirus can mutate very quickly and it is now very important to be able to detect the variants. ”
Dealing with wastewater dilution has also been a challenge. As the winter snowpack melted, Örmeci’s team had to adapt their methods to accommodate increased amounts of water.
“Changes in wastewater properties must be continuously improved,” says Örmeci.
And although the rollout of vaccines has given some optimism about the future, wastewater testing is likely to still be necessary in the short term.
“There will be a need to continue these tests on an ongoing basis, but the good thing about the methods we use is that you can scale them or scale them down,” says Örmeci.
“We can test for the entire city of Ottawa, or we can make the Carleton campus, or we can do it for a single building. Going forward, COVID-19 is likely to be a part of our lives for some time. There will be several variants and even after vaccination it will be important to monitor for the levels of the virus and also the percentages of different variants that appear. ”
Örmeci credits the success of the project to the dedicated work of team members Kibbee, Chanchal Yadav and Carolin Bitter.
“We have a fantastic team of students and researchers at Carleton. None of this would be possible without them. ”