N.B. missing from new federal COVID-19 wastewater monitoring dashboard

N.B. missing from new federal COVID-19 wastewater monitoring dashboard

Data from Halifax and N.L. included in dashboard aimed at helping people make decisions about precautions

The Public Health Agency of Canada has launched a new online COVID-19 wastewater surveillance dashboard to illustrate trends in various jurisdictions, and help people make decisions about personal precautions, but New Brunswick is not represented.

Data from Halifax and 17 communities in Newfoundland and Labrador is included, along with various areas in Alberta, B.C., Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories.

P.E.I. just started wastewater testing last Thursday.

New Brunswick Department of Health officials did not respond Monday to a request for comment.

Last month, a spokesperson said the province’s wastewater surveillance working group was assessing the feasibility of expanding a pilot project being conducted in Moncton as part of a research project at Dalhousie University.

“Wastewater continues to play an increasingly important role in helping us to understand the dynamics of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and supporting public health decision-making,” Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam said in a statement, citing the “shift to more targeted testing.”

“The detection of SARS-CoV-2 virus in wastewater can help with monitoring of trends in COVID-19 transmission, including signaling new or increasing presence of the virus.”

The Public Health Agency of Canada launched the dashboard in collaboration with other federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments, as well as academia, Tam said.

“This tool … allows Canadians to access the latest wastewater data to inform decision-making, such as on the use of personal precautions.”

Right now, only the City of Moncton collects wastewater samples to monitor viral levels in New Brunswick as part of a research project at Dalhousie University. The data is shared with New Brunswick Public Health. (Submitted by Graham Gagnon)

The wastewater surveillance dashboard will be updated on Tuesdays and Fridays at 1 p.m. AT.

The solid green line shows the seven-day rolling average of the viral load for each site. Halifax is trending down, according to the dashboard, as is Newfoundland and Labrador overall.

“If the wastewater signals are high or increasing, this may indicate a high level of COVID in your community,” the website advises. It urges caution when interpreting daily and short-term changes in viral load, as the wastewater signal can change from day to day.

“Consider the risks and make informed decisions about individual public health measures. Even if they’re no longer required in your community or setting, individual public health measures can help reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

The dashboard will be expanded to provide data on more cities, Tam said. No other details, such as which cities or when, have been provided.

The latest report, which was updated on Friday with data up to and including April 28, shows “wastewater signals have plateaued or declined in many areas, however there is considerable variability from testing sites across the country,” said Tam.

New Brunswick has not said what types of issues are being weighed to determine whether to proceed with wastewater monitoring, whether it’s considering monitoring provincewide or just in some large centres, how long before a decision might be made, or how quickly a program could be up and running.

Drop in transmission

Overall, while COVID-19 is still circulating across the country, recent seven-day averages and other disease activity indicators show decreasing transmission in many areas, she said.

There were 33,759 new cases of COVID-19 across the country in the seven days leading up to Sunday, figures released Monday show. That’s down from 49,358 last week.

Laboratory test positivity between April 27 and May 3 decreased nationally to 14 per cent, and the recent rise of hospitalization rates across the country appears to be stabilizing, with critical care continuing to trend at “relatively low levels.”

“Nevertheless, weeks of COVID-19 resurgence including widespread illness and health-care worker absenteeism has contributed to prolonged impacts on the health system,” Tam said.

“Keeping infection rates down remains key to protecting vulnerable populations, reducing severe outcomes and dampening the overall impact on the health system.”

Officials are also closely monitoring the domestic and international situation and preparing for new variants, including possible so-called recombinant variants that can arise from genetic mixing during co-infection with two variants, she said.

“We expect the SARS-CoV-2 virus to continuously evolve.”

Other diseases make ‘comeback’

Meanwhile, as COVID-19 public health measures have eased and people resume more activities and connections, Tam said other infectious diseases, such as influenza and measles, which she described as serious, are “making a comeback.”

Canada is reporting increased influenza activity in recent weeks, late in the 2021-22 season, she said. This includes the first outbreaks and a “sharp rise” in detections, mostly in those aged 45 and older.

UNICEF and the World Health Organization report a 79 per cent increase in measles cases worldwide between January and February, compared to the same time last year.

This is “a worrying sign of overall heightened risk for spread of vaccine preventable diseases that could trigger larger outbreaks,” Tam said.

She pointed to delayed or missed vaccination as a key factor in the rising cases, particularly during the pandemic. “There is concern for potential co-infection if more than one disease is circulating at the same time.”

Tam stressed the importance of keeping all vaccinations up-to-date.