By Angelica Marie Sanchez. This is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared on Waterloo News.
The fall season means an increased risk of respiratory illness as we spend more time indoors with groups of family and friends. We can help protect ourselves and others by getting the flu vaccine and a booster shot for COVID-19 as cases for new variants rise globally.
What do you need to know about the ongoing risk of COVID-19? Mark Servos, professor and Canada Research Chair in Water Quality Protection in the University of Waterloo’s Department of Biology, provides answers and educational resources. Servos and his team have been running wastewater surveillance for COVID-19 since early in the pandemic.
What does the Region of Waterloo wastewater surveillance system indicate about the trends of SARS-CoV-2 (i.e., COVID-19)?
Our Waterloo research team has been reporting on the trends of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants (the virus that causes COVID-19) in wastewater directly to the local Public Health Unit since early in the pandemic. Wastewater has proven to be a reliable and accurate way to track COVID-19 infections in the community. We have recently seen a rise in the virus across the region and a shift in the mix of the variants present (e.g., subvariants of XBB). This situation can change quickly. You can follow the wastewater trends at the Region of Waterloo’s public website.
Is COVID-19 still a concern and what are the ongoing risks?
Yes, COVID-19 continues to be a serious concern. Although COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths have declined in recent months, the COVID-19 virus continues to circulate in our community and represents a health threat to everyone. As we congregate in indoor settings and as new variants continue to emerge, we can expect COVID-19 to spread more widely.
People with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms, including fever and chills, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headaches, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea. There are also people that may be more susceptible to developing severe disease, so we need to work together to continue to protect ourselves, as well as others around us.
The level of immunity in our community acquired through vaccines and/or naturally means that for many people the likelihood of severe disease and hospitalization is reduced relative to the past waves. However, a large portion of our community will remain vulnerable, especially immune compromised and older individuals. Although COVID-19 can make you very sick, we must also remain concerned about complications of the COVID-19 infections that can impact your long-term health. Even people with mild symptoms can experience long term on-going health problems as a result of an infection.