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Ottawa’s coronavirus wastewater nears record levels


Researchers are projecting that coronavirus wastewater levels in Ottawa could rise further to near-record levels in the coming days.

The average level of coronavirus in Ottawa’s wastewater has been rising since early June amid the highly transmissible BA.5 coronavirus subvariant.

As of Sunday, it’s higher than the peaks of most previous waves, but below the heights reached in January and April 2022.

According to a projection from researchers regularly posting their results on 613covid.ca, however, the median wastewater viral signal in the city could soon reach even closer to levels recorded in April. 

“They’re very high,” Doug Manuel, a physician and senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital, said of current levels. “They’re in what I would call the red zone.”

A bar and line graph.
Researchers measuring levels of coronavirus in Ottawa’s wastewater also project what may happen in the coming seven days. They caution that this approach is not peer-reviewed. (613covid.ca)

While hospitals are not seeing a parallel spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations, increased transmission and resulting infections could have other impacts, Manuel said. 

“The likelihood of cancellations will be increasing as flight crews become more and more infected and won’t be able to work,” he said as an example.

“[In] any sector where workers can’t work if they’re infected, the likelihood of disruption in those settings is increased into potentially the highest levels we’ve seen since the pandemic began.”

Increased mixing of people during the summer compared to the two previous years partly accounts for the increased transmission, Manuel said.

WATCH | What’s driving the rise in COVID-19 cases in Ottawa: 

What’s driving the rise in COVID-19 cases in Ottawa

Doug Manuel, a senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital, says an increase in social gatherings and a lack of long-term immunity is leading to a rise in infections stemming from the more transmissible BA.5 coronavirus subvariant.

‘The weak link in the chain’

Both Manuel and Dr. Robert Cushman, the acting medical officer of health for the Renfrew County and District Health Unit west of Ottawa, cited another factor: lower-than-desired uptake of third doses among younger adults.

In Ottawa for example, more than 250,000 people have two doses, but not three. The gap in the Renfrew County area is a similar percentage of the population.

“We’ve seen a real sort of reluctance to get the third shot … That’s the weak link in the chain. That’s what’s really hurting us,” Cushman said.

Manuel and Cushman are both also underscoring the need for people to mask up, especially indoors, when near caregivers or those who are immunocompromised.

“Vaccine immunity may wane the further off we have them, but masks will work with the same effectiveness on all variants,” Manuel said. 


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