Wastewater levels suggest Ottawa is in another COVID wave: expert

Wastewater levels suggest Ottawa is in another COVID wave: expert

Coronavirus levels in Ottawa’s sewage are comparable to last January, when the Omicron subvariant peaked for the first time, some experts say.

“We’re seeing a big uptrend,” said Tyson Graber, co-lead of investigators at the Ottawa COVID-19 sewage project.

According to the data, the SARS-COV-2 signal in Ottawa sewage roughly doubled between the third and fourth weeks of December, Graber said.

While Graber said the new XBB.1.5 COVID-19 subvariant is unlikely to be found in large quantities in the country’s capital, it still raises concerns.

But what’s likely driving the high levels, according to preliminary data, is another variation, Graber said. This strain, BQ 1.1, appears to have arrived in Ottawa in November and spread through holiday celebrations, he said.

But while BQ 1.1 may be responsible for what got us here, some experts believe that XBB.1.5 – a mutated version of Omicron – could “outperform” other subvariants with its already rapid rise in the US

The situation in Canada is murkier given delays in data collection from all provinces during the holiday season, but Graber’s team expects to see more of XBB.1.5 in the coming weeks.

“We have some clinical sequences with XBB and specifically XBB.1.5 in Ontario,” he said. “So it’s actually here. It’s just a question of how fast that will grow – and we don’t know yet.”

Graber also said people shouldn’t panic, adding it’s just the newest sub-variant trying to find its niche.

Researchers measuring and sharing the amount of the novel coronavirus in Ottawa’s wastewater say the levels are comparable to last January, during Omicron’s first peak. The latest data is from January 2, 2022. (613covid.ca)

In an email, Ottawa Public Health said its recommendations are not changing for any specific variant or subvariant of the virus.

These recommendations include wearing a mask indoors, having current vaccines — including a flu shot — screening for even mild symptoms, and staying home if necessary.

Hard to know what’s in stock

dr Doug Manuel, a physician and chief scientist at Ottawa Hospital and a professor at the University of Ottawa, said COVID-19 is on the rise in the northern hemisphere, with the nearby U.S. northeast being a hotspot.

Manuel said new variants like XBB.1.5 are coming to Ottawa, but many questions remain.

A colorized electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19. Scientists are now monitoring the Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5, which is on the rise in several countries including the United States (US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases).

“The question is how much is this going to bring to our vulnerable populations, our long-term care homes, our elderly, and lead to a lot of morbidity and hospitalization?” he said.

While potentially more transferrable, XBB.1.5 is not considered more serious, Manuel said.

“We don’t know yet. We don’t think so,” said Manuel. “But worldwide it is difficult to get this information quickly.”

Graber said it’s difficult to predict what the presence of variants coupled with already high levels of virus in wastewater means for Ottawa.

“It’s pretty safe to say at this point we’re in another wave. What is extremely difficult to predict is how high we will go,” he said.

“My prediction at the moment is that this won’t be a big wave, but I’m really not going to hang my hat on it. Because we have been wrong in the past and will be wrong again.”

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