COVID-19: Variants continue to rise in Saskatoon

"The trend is extremely concerning for Saskatoon and we have a golden opportunity to slow down the increase that we're starting to see."

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As Saskatoon grapples with variants of the virus that causes COVID-19, Dr. Cory Neudorf, a professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan, would like people to take it back to spring 2020.

“Think back to how empty the streets were for a few weeks there, and when you did have to go to get groceries there were very few people and they were very diligent in spreading themselves out in the store, paying attention to those arrows on the floor. Everyone was taking it very seriously,” he said

Last week, scientists who analyzed Saskatoon’s wastewater warned that COVID-19 cases appeared set to spike due to variants. On Wednesday, the province reported 178 COVID-19 cases involving a variant of concern in Saskatoon — a more than threefold increase since late March. In Saskatchewan, the B.1.1.7. variant first identified in the U.K. remains the most common.

Neudorf said said B.1.1.7 is proving more transmissible among younger people, and potentially more harmful to those infected, fuelling a pattern similar to what’s been seen over the last few weeks in Regina.

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“You reach a point where then things appear to stabilize, but what’s really happening is that the new variants are taking a larger proportion of the existing COVID cases, and then you start to see an increase happening. And that increase, without enhanced measures, can become very, very steep,” Neudorf said.

The ideal response to the situation unfolding in Saskatoon, in his view, would be a “circuit breaker” period of tighter restrictions, he said.

“When you start to see that curve bend up, that’s the time to respond.”

Medical Health Officer Dr. Jasmine Hasselback of the Saskatchewan Health Authority commended people for helping to keep variants at bay in Saskatoon for this long, but echoed Neudorf in saying the numbers appear to be headed toward a tipping point.

“The trend is extremely concerning for Saskatoon and we have a golden opportunity to slow down the increase that we’re starting to see,” she said.

Current public health orders still allow private indoor gatherings in Saskatoon, capped at a maximum of 10 people. Outdoor gatherings are also capped at a maximum of 10, with distancing of two metres between separate households.

Hasselback encouraged people in Saskatoon to go beyond the existing orders, limit close contacts to their immediate household only and avoid all non-essential trips. She said people who do have to venture out for work or other essential business should continue diligently wearing masks, while trying to do things like taking lunch breaks outdoors if possible.

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blevy@postmedia.com

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