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Wastewater samples point to rising COVID-19 variant cases in Saskatoon: professor

Click to play video: 'Wastewater samples point to rising COVID-19 variant cases in Saskatoon' Wastewater samples point to rising COVID-19 variant cases in Saskatoon
WATCH: New data shows COVID-19 cases in Saskatoon could likely soar yet again – Apr 1, 2021

John Giesy says Saskatoon could be in for a bumpy April.

The toxicology professor at the University of Saskatchewan said the city is trending in the wrong direction when it comes to the prevalence of the novel coronavirus in the city’s wastewater.

“Up until last week we were trending down in Saskatoon,” Giesy told Global News, adding they were able to “pick up maybe seven copies of the virus in 100 millilitres of wastewater.

“So not very many.”

Read more: Researchers using waste water to track COVID-19 in Saskatoon, Indigenous communities

That changed in recent days.

“The data (Wednesday) indicates that the number of copies has increased by fourfold since last week,” he said. “That’s bad news. We seem to have bottomed out and now are trending back up again.”

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During Tuesday’s COVID-19 briefing, Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province’s chief medical health officer, noted cases in the south are on the rise.

“There are many places in the south that are quite concerning, (but) some parts of the province, not so much,” he said.

“I think Moose Jaw is on red alert and this has to be watched very closely.”

The south-central zone — where Moose Jaw is located — and the south-east zone have seen active cases rise in recent days. Reported active cases in those zones as of Thursday were 129 and 160 respectively.

Regina is currently the hot spot in the province, with 1,046 of the 1,949 active cases in the province as of Thursday. The vast majority of identified variant cases have also been in Regina — 1,348 out of 1,682 total cases.

Giesy is worried that variants of concern cases are set to rise in Saskatoon.

Click to play video: 'Mounting fears about variants as cases rise' Mounting fears about variants as cases rise
Mounting fears about variants as cases rise – Mar 31, 2021

“Last week it was almost non-detectable in Saskatoon,” he said. “It’s not good that it went from essentially nothing last week to almost 20 per cent this week. That means it’s on a pretty rapid trajectory upward.”

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“A couple of weeks to three weeks out, we’ll probably be at the 50, 60 per cent rate for variants of concern.”

The team Giesy is a member of started collecting samples from Saskatoon’s wastewater last July to measure levels of the novel coronavirus.

Read more: USask researchers predicting COVID-19 case numbers using wastewater

He said it can help health officials look at trends as the virus shows up in wastewater before people show symptoms. It also accounts for people who are asymptomatic.

“When people get infected, they start shedding billions of [virus cells] almost immediately,” Giesy said. “They might not show any symptoms for five to 14 days. Once they present and say, ‘hey, I’m feeling sick, I think I’ll get tested,’ then it’s another three days.”

Giesy said vaccinations need to be rolled out faster than the variants that are taking hold in the population to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

He cautioned, however, that the coronavirus could mutate into other variants not yet identified, rendering current vaccines ineffective.

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Read more: COVID-19: Those with weakened immune systems may reveal the secrets to the variant mystery

“The way (the vaccines) were developed makes them very specific about a certain place on the genome of the viruses, which is good because it means there are going to be less side effects and other things that are often a problem with vaccines,” he said.

“But, the problem is, if they mutate in those places, the vaccine may no longer recognize it and be effective. So that’s the big concern right now.”

Click to play video: 'Researchers using waste water to track COVID-19 in Saskatoon, Indigenous communities' Researchers using waste water to track COVID-19 in Saskatoon, Indigenous communities
Researchers using waste water to track COVID-19 in Saskatoon, Indigenous communities – Feb 22, 2021

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