WINDSOR, ONT. -- The Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research is using wastewater testing as an early look into the future of what the confirmed rate of COVID-activity is in the community.

“Our latest results for all of Windsor-Essex county, all of our wastewater plants indicate that the viral levels in the wastewater are still at an elevated state,” said GLIER executive director Mike McKay.

Wastewater for COVID test results generally take about one day, compared to lab COVID-19 tests that take much longer.

“It doesn’t rely on people making a decision to get tested,” McKay said. “We like to refer to this as the community swab! It’s sampling the entire population, asymptomatic, symptomatic, whether you want to get a test or not.”

In November, a $300,000 federal investment was made toward wastewater testing.

“We’re picking up real infections at the time people are experiencing infection, even if they’re not experiencing symptoms yet,” McKay said.

GLIER hopes more funding will come, saying it can help guide critical public health decisions.

“If we look at the cost of wastewater surveillance compared to testing individuals, it’s pennies on the dollar,” McKay said.

Meanwhile, local COVID-19 cases continue to climb.

Dr. Wajid Ahmed, Windsor Essex medical officer of health, said conversations with people who have tested positive reveal the guidelines are being ignored. 

“Every time when we are hearing ‘oh I was just doing it this way because we feel it was okay.’ No, it was not okay. Plain and simple. I think that’s the bottom line,” he said.

Ahmed said staying at home unless going out for essentials is the best way to bring cases down.

“Everyone who was doing something they think that maybe they are doing it safely and others are not, and I want to take this moment and say no, everyone is doing it wrong,” he said. “The message is stay home.”