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Don’t travel internationally, keep gatherings small during holidays: Saskatchewan epidemiologist

Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan expands booster program to those 18 and up'
Saskatchewan expands booster program to those 18 and up
WATCH: Saskatchewan is expanding its COVID-19 booster program in an effort, officials say, to mitigate the threat of the Omicron variant. – Dec 17, 2021

With the COVID-19 Omicron variant spreading across other parts of the country, a Saskatchewan epidemiologist has advice on how residents here can avoid getting infected over the holidays.

University of Saskatchewan epidemiologist Nazeem Muhajarine said Saskatchewan is not seeing Omicron cases climbing as fast as Ontario or Quebec, but we still need to watch it closely.

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Muhajarine explained the definite detection of Omicron depends on how quickly genomic sequencing results of positive cases come back.

“I think it’s something that we have to watch because of that time lag of getting the test results,” Muhajarine said.

He also said it’s important to note that Saskatchewan is just coming out of a severe fourth wave and it may take some time for the province to see the same spread of cases as Ontario and Quebec.

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“If we have four or five cases, we will see more cases in the community. That’s almost guaranteed and so I think we have to prepare for that,” Muhajarine said.

“So far it is slow but it could just be the calm before the storm in Saskatchewan.”

Click to play video: 'Ottawa advises Canadians to avoid all non-essential international travel'
Ottawa advises Canadians to avoid all non-essential international travel

For those thinking about travelling internationally right now, Muhajarine has one piece of advice: “Don’t do it now.”

“If you care about your health and well-being and those around you, those you love, don’t do it now.”

Muhajarine suggested cancelling any international trips. He said there are two reasons for this recommendation.

One is that travelling is really complex now with delays, cancellations, testing protocols and the potential for quarantining.

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“It’s not even worth it, actually — seven days in the sun and sand, anywhere.”

The second reason being the threat of Omicron spreading so quickly across the world.

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For those wishing to see family over the holidays, Muhajarine recommends keeping gatherings small, with fewer than 10 people.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe told reporters on Thursday he was keeping his Christmas plans “very low key.”

“They’re going to be at home and we’re fortunate that both our kids are going to be able to join us,” Moe said.

He added he’ll have rapid tests available, something he encourages other Saskatchewan residents to take advantage of.

“Ultimately, I will be having a little bit of a visit with family and friends. We have our annual hockey games with all of my children as well as my nieces and nephews. I don’t win that hockey game anymore but I’m happy they still invite me to play,” Moe joked.

Muhajarine also recommends taking a rapid antigen test before gathering with family members. He also suggests taking a rapid test after visiting with family and friends.

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If a rapid test yields a positive result, Muhajarine said individuals should follow up with a PCR test from the Saskatchewan Health Authority to confirm the result.

Muhajarine recommends taking the test a few hours before you plan to get together with others and then 24 hours afterwards.

Muhajarine explained that the highest viral load is present within 24 to 36 hours of exposure.

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He also suggested cracking open a window when gathering to let fresh air in and wearing a mask when you’re not eating.

“They know how you all look and after enjoying that meal, keep that mask on, particularly if you have older people within your household for any extended time,” Muhajarine said.

“This is the time to enjoy your family and hold them close to you figuratively (and) literally, but I think we have to do it quite carefully. Let’s keep that Omicron out of the house, let’s not invite it in, even inadvertently,” he added.

Muhajarine also recommended residents get a booster shot when it is their turn, which research has shown does help bring up one’s immune response to Omicron.

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