Six Nations wastewater monitoring on COVID variants

Six Nations is considering monitoring wastewater at the local lagoon to track potential COVID variants of concern (VOCs).

The proposal comes from the Six Nations Emergency Control Group amid concerns from Six Nations Public Health that there is “significant underreporting” of self-administered at-home COVID tests.

Six Nations Public Health has ceased public testing and relies on community self-reporting.

“We don’t have the data on what strain of virus is circulating in the community,” says Michael Montour, chair of the ECG. “We’re just looking for this to be another tool in our tool belt as we shift into the next phase of the pandemic.”

Council had previously turned down a request from the Six Nations Research and Ethics Committee to monitor wastewater for COVID data collection.

This time, the purpose isn’t for research, but surveillance, said Montour.

The wastewater would be analyzed by a team from the University of Waterloo to track variants of concern.

Knowing what variants are circulating in the community will help public health make recommendations to prevent the further spread of COVID this winter, said Six Nations epidemiologist Sara Smith.

Mark Servos, a professor with the University of Waterloo, said when you get the the virus in the nose, you swallow it and excrete it, ending up in the local pipes and eventually, into the lagoon in Ohsweken.

Scientists would take a sample from there, extract it, clean it up and use the methods in a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test to determine which strain of virus is circulating.

“It’s not active virus; it’s pieces of the virus,” said Servos.

Michelle said she thought it came to ethics and was denied

Because the wastewater only comes from Ohsweken households, the monitoring will only catch one subsection of the community that goes into the lagoon.

“We don’t have any data so we just want a tool as we move into the next phase,” said Montour.

Smith retired it was a surveillance tool not a research project.

“It’s a tool to monitor COVID-19 in the community. It doesn’t capture the entire community…but that is similar to other municipalities. Not everyone is on that line either. It’s thought of as a sample.”

Servos said surveillance would give a very strong idea of what’s happening in community but it won’t tell everything.

Six Nations Public Health is only receiving about five self-reported test results weekly.

“Currently there’s such little available data,” said Servos. “We see it as service. We volunteered to do this for Ohsweken.”

Smith said wastewater monitoring would help because if a variant arises and is found to be severe, then they can communicate to community that the variant is now on Six Nations and people can then make risk-informed decisions.

Councillor Audrey Powless-Bomberry said it would be wise to consider wastewater monitoring for COVID-19 variants.

Council said it will revisit the proposal in the next few weeks.

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