REGINA -- A team of researchers at the University of Regina is analyzing COVID-19 levels in the city’s waste water.

Over the past seven days, Regina has averaged 79 new cases of COVID-19 per day.

That number matches up with what the scientists have been seeing in the city’s wastewater over the past few weeks.

The City of Regina has been supplying wastewater from the sewage system at different locations around the city, as well as the wastewater treatment plant as part of a study to predict how much of the virus is in the community.

"By measuring how much of the genetic material is present, we can estimate how much total virus is being moved throughout the sewage system," Tzu-Chiao Chao, a research scientists at the U of R, said.

A similar study at the University of Saskatchewan has been able to correlate a rise in the virus in wastewater to a rise in actual case numbers a week ahead of time.

The University of Regina study is in discussions to share its findings with provincial health officials and will alert them if they see a sudden increase in the virus in fecal matter that doesn’t line up with the new case numbers.

The hope is that its modelling will also be able to predict any future spikes.

"It’s part of our on-going efforts to create a more improved model to better predict or estimate how many people are specifically effected given the viral load in the sewer system," Chao said.

Analyzing wastewater for viruses is a long established method that has been used during other pandemics to pinpoint where outbreaks are going to occur.

"The polio eradication program when this was initiated in the [United Nations], they used this kind of methodology to determine where outbreaks are and also basically to get rid of them," Nicole Hansmeier, an assistant professor of biology at the U of R, said.

The group is hoping to use this study to build a framework to continue to analyze the wastewater into the future to predict outbreaks of other viruses and diseases.

"We want to see this as the very last pandemic in human history, but probably in the future, we will have similar situations that require this kind of effort," Jinkai Xue, assistant professor of engineering with the U of R, said.

Regina currently has 974 active cases of COVID-19 and the group said their data doesn’t show a drop in cases coming in the near future.