A provincial COVID-19 tracker for Alberta has identified the virus that causes COVID-19 to be in Airdrie’s wastewater supply, but experts say there’s no need to panic. Over the past few weeks, Airdrie’s wastewater has shown a drastic increase of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). 

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the virus that causes COVID-19.  

Data from the Centre for Health Informatics at the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary created this provincial COVID-19 tracker and update it regularly to show the impact of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater through various communities in Alberta. The tracker also keeps data from cases and positivity rates. 

Wastewater surveillance captures data from the individuals who are shedding SARS-CoV-2 regardless of disease manifestation or their access to testing. 

Tyler Williamson, the Director of the Center for Health Informatics at the University of Calgary, says SARS-CoV-2 in Airdrie’s wastewater system could indicate how many people still have the virus in the community. 

“When we see COVID-19 in the wastewater, it means that there's some in the community.” 

Between March 25 2022 and April 8 2022, the amount of SARS-CoV-2 per milliliter in Airdrie’s wastewater rose. Following the incline of SARS-CoV-2 in Airdrie’s wastewater, there was a surge of COVID-19 throughout the province and new cases of the virus started to pop up. 

Williamson says the roles of the COVID-19 tracker have shifted since it was first created, because things like wastewater are proving to be more sustainable surveillance mechanisms. 

“When the virus gets inside our bodies and when we shed it as we fight the virus, all those kinds of things, it's shared through fecal matter. So that's why we can track it in wastewater.” 

The increase in SARS-CoV-2 in Airdries wastewater does not increase the risk of contracting the virus, but it does increase the potential for the virus to linger within the community. 

“Usually, it starts shedding in the wastewater earlier. Then we can see a presentation of symptoms. It's usually a good leading indicator of what's happening in the community.” 

Williamson says the University of Calgary collects data for this COVID-19 tracker from water treatment plants. Airdrie’s wastewater gets pumped and treated at water treatment plants in Calgary. All wastewater then gets filtered into a water treatment center, and that's where the University of Calgary collects the wastewater samples. 

“This uptick of COVID-19 in the wastewater means we're seeing there's going to be more cases, there are more cases presently. We know that from the wastewater.” 

Between March 25 2022 and April 8 2022, the data shows there were high levels of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater for fifteen days before it peaked.  

The trend from the COVID-19 tracker says four days after April 8, 2022 the amount of SARS-CoV-2 in Airdrie’s wastewater started to decrease. However, the tracker says on April 14 2022 the amount of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater started to rise again.  

The amount of SARS-CoV-2 in Calgary’s wastewater has also been on the rise since March 10 2022.  

“When you see COVID wastewater numbers go up, it's all about COVID infections.” 

Williamson says the amount of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater is determined by how many people have COVID-19 in the community so when the amount of SARS-CoV-2 starts to decline it’s because the community is managing their COVID-19 health profile.  

Wastewater surveillance can be an early indicator of the number of people in Airdrie with COVID-19. It can also identify if infection rates are going up, or going down.