The Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) recently added the community of Fort Liard to the Northwest Territories’ (NWT) program that’s testing human wastewater for the presence of the virus that causes COVID-19.

“Information is power in a pandemic,” said Julie Green, minister of health and social services. “The addition of Fort Liard to the GNWT’s wastewater surveillance program gives another community access to more information that can help keep them safe during the pandemic. Wastewater surveillance provides us with an early warning system to detect COVID-19 and we thank our partners for collaborating with us to operate this program. It is a valuable resource as we work to keep the virus at bay in our territory.”

The first wastewater samples from Fort Liard were collected in March via sampling devices installed on effluent pipes on the community’s trucked sewer system.

Fort Liard joins six other NWT communities where wastewater surveillance is being conducted. The other communities are Fort Simpson, Fort Smith, Hay River, Inuvik, Norman Wells, and Yellowknife.

Fort Liard was identified as a priority community for wastewater testing because of its proximity to northern B.C. communities that have seen a sharp spike in COVID-19 cases.

Wastewater surveillance is a cost-effective way to test for COVID-19. Positive test results (signals) in a community with no known COVID-19 cases can help public health officials to take action that will reduce viral spread.

The territory’s wastewater samples are analyzed at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, and also at the GNWT’s Environment and Natural Resources’ (ENR) Taiga Laboratory. Results are compared in a quality assurance process before Taiga Lab begins leading all wastewater testing for NWT samples.

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NWT wastewater test results are available online 5-10 days after collection, following review by the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer.

The surveillance program is a collaboration among community governments, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, Department of Health and Social Services, and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The program is expected to be in place for the next 12 months.

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