Saskatchewan faces risk of COVID-19 resurgence: modelling

REGINA — A community health expert says recent modelling shows variants and high test positivity rates could lead to a resurgence of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan.

Two weeks ago, the Saskatchewan Health Authority gave an update to physicians that included a discussion on community spread.

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A senior medical health officer said confirmed cases in the province could double to 50,000 by mid-April, if certain indicators didn't change, such as the reproductive figure for how many people one person with COVID-19 infects.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority said Thursday that calculation was based on an earlier case count. It said as of Feb. 20, the reproductive figure has been below one. That means case growth is less than it was when the town hall estimate was given.

Cory Neudorf, public health and epidemiology professor at the University of Saskatchewan, says provinces are at a critical point in the pandemic.

He says vaccine rollouts for the most vulnerable are in their early days and there's a risk more contagious mutations could take over from the original COVID-19 virus.

Neudorf does point out that caseloads have begun to stabilize and drop in the past few weeks in parts of the province, including around Saskatoon and in the south.

"It’s a slightly less possibility than it was a few weeks ago, but it’s still possible that we would be seeing a resurgence by mid-April. Whether or not it gets to 50,000 cases, I don’t know," Neudorf said.

The province on Thursday reported 211 new infections after only 56 on Wednesday —the lowest count in months. The total number of confirmed cases since the pandemic took hold last March sits at slightly over 28,000.

Saskatchewan, with a population of 1.1 million, reports having the highest rate of active cases per capita in Canada. It also has two cases of the variant first identified in the United Kingdom with no known links to travel.

During the virtual town hall with doctors, the health authority said modelling data showed the variant could cause cases to begin spiking at the end of March, reversing an otherwise slow decline in numbers.

"If those variants take a foothold and become the dominant strain, you can see a very rapid growth in cases like Newfoundland saw," Neudorf said. "If that happened, then you could very easily see a doubling ... to 50,000 cases by mid-April."

Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, has said this is the third week in some time in which seven-day averages of new daily cases are below 200. He also said the province's test positivity rate is about seven per cent, down from 10.

Still, health officials say more testing is needed because it's higher than five per cent.

"We need to see more testing being done so that we’re picking up more cases and getting on top of those quicker so they’re not spreading to more people — that’s how you actually bend that curve down faster," said Neudorf.

During the summer, Premier Scott Moe set a goal of 4,000 COVID-19 tests a day. On Thursday, about 3,000 were done.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021

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