Civic leaders in Saskatoon are urging people to renew efforts to work from home and limit social interaction as COVID-19 variant cases climb in the city.
Despite public health measures, people have travelled within the province, contributing to the spread of the deadlier and more transmissible B.1.1.7 variant, according Dr. Jasmine Hasselback, the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s medical health officer for Saskatoon.
“Over the last week, we’ve hit that tipping point,” said Dr. Hasselback said during a virtual news conference.
University of Saskatchewan researchers found that in the first five days of April, the presence of the coronavirus nearly quadrupled in Saskatoon’s wastewater, compared to the previous week. An average of 50 per cent of samples were the deadlier, more transmissible variant.
The Easter long weekend, in particular, contributed to climbing case counts, Dr. Hasselback said.
Provincewide, indoor private gatherings are limited to immediate households only. There are additional measures for Regina and area, including a travel advisory, a ban on indoor restaurant dining and other venue closures.
Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark told reporters that he has spoken to provincial officials, saying he would support further measures in his city if needed. Unlike the provincial government, the city can’t implement its own public health orders.
“There is a sense of at some point those restrictions are going to be needed given the spikes we’re seeing in variants,” Clark said.
“If we can save lives and those measures are required now, we would support that.”
During Thursday’s news conference, city officials urged people to work from home whenever possible. Workplaces are among the top sources for COVID-19 outbreaks.
“Every single decision we make right now either helps us or helps the bug,” said Pamela Goulden-McLeod, the director of emergency planning with the Saskatoon Emergency Measures Organization.
For workplaces that require people to work on-site, the city used Saskatoon’s water and wastewater operations as an example. It’s an essential service that needs some staff on location.
Saskatoon Water has implemented work-from-home measures for people who can work remotely. At city facilities, operators are separated in different offices, managers work on rotation and crews are in cohorts. Cleaning, masks and physical distancing are paramount.
Addressing the public directly, Clark acknowledged the last year has felt like a rollercoaster, though vaccines offer some hope.
“Please buckle down. Please take action to make sure we can prevent this because I am very concerned about our community right now,” Clark said.
“We’re asking you to hold on for just a little while longer.”