Tracking COVID-19 in Wastewater

Given SARS-CoV-2 virus is shed in stool, it is possible to track trends in prevalence through Wastewater Based Epidemiology. Since spring 2020, the lab group has been hard at work conducting local surveillance operations and related research.


For the past several months, with our partners at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), we have been sampling primary sludge samples from the ROPEC wastewater treatment facility. Upon transportation to the laboratory, viral RNA is concentrated and extracted and SARS-CoV-2 genes are quantified using RT-qPCR. The calculated concentration of SARS-CoV-2 gene copies present in the wastewater is then normalised using PMMoV, a reference gene. The final result is an indicator of disease prevalence, leading when compared to clinical data, all while testing all of the city at once. This surveillance is being conducted daily in Ottawa, but is set to expand to other cities in Ontario and the region during the fall.

The data is directly shared with Ottawa Public Health. Live data can be visualised on

More information available on the City of Ottawa website.

Detailed methodology and further information available in our pre-print articles: 

Special thanks to our partners at CHEO, CHEO-RI, City of Ottawa, Ottawa Public Health, Ville de Gatineau, CISSSO, and City of Hamilton. Also special thank you to Mark Servos of uWaterloo, Mike McKay of uWindsor and CWN for their collaboration.

Ongoing research projects

In addition to surveillance, group members are also currently undertaking the following projects:

An investigation of SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentration methods for higher recovery rates in wastewater testing
Liane Geis

Because SARS-CoV-2 is newly emerged, a major challenge for research is absence of a standardized testing protocol. Testing different methods of concentrating the viral RNA and determining which has the most efficient recovery rate is important in order to best utilize COVID-19 monitoring in wastewater solids.

Understanding the role of different standards in inter-study variation of wastewater SARS-CoV-2 concentrations
Antoine Cantin

Large discrepancies exist between RNA concentrations detected in various studies conducted worldwide. Through literary review and data analysis, this project examines the hypothesis that this can be attributed primarily to standards used.