Saskatchewan

COVID-19 viral loads up in 3 Sask. cities, showing signs of 7th wave

COVID-19 viral loads in three Saskatchewan cities have been increasing for two consecutive weeks and the fast-spreading Omicron BA.5 subvariant has now been detected in wastewater from all three, according to the latest University of Saskatchewan wastewater report.

Viral loads in Saskatoon, Prince Albert, North Battleford up by 78.1%, 78.9%, 40.2% respectively

COVID-19 viral loads in three Saskatchewan cities have been increasing for two weeks in a row, according to the latest University of Saskatchewan wastewater report. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

COVID-19 viral loads in three Saskatchewan cities have been increasing for two consecutive weeks and the fast-spreading Omicron BA.5 subvariant has now been detected in wastewater from all three, according to the latest University of Saskatchewan wastewater report.

Throughout the pandemic, researchers at the U of S have been analyzing wastewater from some Saskatchewan cities for signs of COVID-19. The wastewater samples can help predict upcoming rises or falls in positive case diagnoses.

The report released Monday says COVID viral loads in Saskatoon, Prince Albert and North Battleford have increased by 78.1 per cent, 78.9 per cent and 40.2 per cent respectively in this reporting period compared to the weekly average of the previous week.

BA.5 made up 14.2 per cent of the viral load in Saskatoon, 14.8 per cent in North Battleford and 2.17 per cent in Prince Albert, according to the report.

John Giesy, a toxicology professor and fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, said this data, coupled with data from other Canadian cities and countries, indicates "this is a start of a new seventh wave driven by the BA.5 variant."

COVID viral loads in Saskatoon’s wasterwater have increased, indicating the city is entering another wave of COVID-19, according to toxicology professor John Giesy. They have also increased in Prince Albert and North Battleford. (U of S/Submitted)

The viral loads in this week's report are some of the smallest loads recorded since January of this year, but this is the second week in a row that viral loads have increased, which U of S researchers interpret as the start of a trend.

Projecting infections, hospitalizations not possible without provincial data

For several weeks, the University of Saskatchewan's wastewater surveillance team has asked the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) for weekly COVID hospital admissions data so that they can project the number of infections and hospitalizations, as they have for previous waves.

The province no longer publishes weekly COVID data and has switched to a monthly model. Without this data, projecting hospitalizations and infections is impossible, Giesy said. 

The process to get hospitalization data has been slow. There have been back and forths with the Ministry of Health. The latest communication between Giesy and the SHA shows that a draft data sharing agreement may not be circulated to the ministry and other stakeholders until the end of July because of summer vacations.

"It won't be as helpful then as it would be now," Giesy said.

The wastewater surveillance team has also been asked by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) to participate in a national program to analyze data, but that's also on hold until researchers get access to the data. 

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