A research team’s most recent wastewater study monitoring the COVID-19 virus indicates pressure on Saskatchewan’s health-care system will likely continue for “months to come,” a University of Saskatchewan professor says.
John Giesy, an environmental toxicology professor and a member of the research team with the Global Institute for Water Security, said in an email that an indicated rise in the number of people infected with SARS-COV-2 in Saskatoon, Prince Albert and North Battleford “signals the leading edge of another wave of COVID.”
The latest wastewater sampling report from the institute up to April 6 shows the viral RNA load in Saskatoon increased by 742.9 per cent week over week. The measurement shows viral load at by far its highest level since researchers began measuring the presence of the virus that causes COVID-19.
In Prince Albert up to April 4, the viral load increased 56.4 per cent week over week. There was some dilution in P.A. due to snow melt, so the changes could be underestimated by as much as 15 per cent, Giesy noted.
In North Battleford up to April 1, the viral load increased 250.3 per cent week over week.
According to a report released Monday by the University of Regina wastewater research team, viral levels have decreased in the capital city week over week, but remain high. Trend analyses suggest that viral levels are plateauing at a high level, according to the researchers.
The surge of COVID in recent weeks in Ontario and Quebec, the United States, the United Kingdom and China has been driven by the BA.2 sub-variant.
Without daily updates from the Saskatchewan Health Authority to provide firm data, Giesy said he had “naively, or at least optimistically” hoped the trend in Saskatchewan would be different, “but alas, it is not.”
He added that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials in the U.S. are predicting another large wave in the fall, and since Saskatoon historically lags behind trends in the U.S. but generally follows those trends, “we might expect a similar situation here.”
Giesy said the recent rise can be the result of a “combination of factors, including the removal of public health guidelines and mandates, waning of immunity of the vaccinated population and possibly an increased ability of the BA.2 sub-variant to escape the immune response. At this point that is unclear.”
Reinfection of COVID-19 was considered unusual, but then the Omicron variant arrived.
“Because Omicron is so different, previous infection doesn’t protect you,” Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, said last week.
He said public health data suggests up to 10 per cent of infected Canadians who have recently had BA.2 — a sub-variant of Omicron — previously had BA.1 or a previous infection, like the Delta variant.
This aligns with recent studies done in England that suggest 10 per cent of reported cases are reinfections.
“That shows just because you got Omicron once doesn’t mean you’re bulletproof now,” Shahab said.
Not all provinces publicly report reinfection rates. However, in Ontario, public health says nearly 12,000 people have got COVID-19 twice since November 2020, with the current risk of reinfection deemed “high.”
Quebec’s National Institute of Public Health says the number of presumed reinfections has increased greatly in its province since Omicron arrived. In a January report, Quebec reported 32 reinfections for every 1,000 primary infections, with nearly 9,000 people suspected of getting reinfected since May of 2020.
Nazeem Muhajarine, an epidemiologist at the U of S, said unlike other variants, Omicron is much better at working around immunity that’s either induced by vaccines or previous infections.
“Not only is it able to escape immunity, but it is happening at a time where people’s immunity is waning,” Muhajarine said, adding it has been three to five months since most Canadians have completed their two-dose vaccine series.
“It’s a bit of a double jeopardy there, and that’s why we’re seeing so many more reinfections with Omicron.”
Health officials continue to suggest that people complete their two-dose COVID-19 vaccine series, get boosted with a third dose and, if eligible, get a fourth shot.
“Vaccines really work well against severe outcomes” like hospitalization and death, Shahab said.
Nationwide, about 47 per cent of eligible people have received a third dose, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
— With Canadian Press files
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