Coronavirus: Health expert warns of less Saskatoon COVID-19 testing over holidays

A researcher who tracks COVID-19 in Saskatoon’s wastewater said it appears the city won’t face a post-holiday spike in cases.

But a public health expert said the province-wide decrease in testing, combined with relatively stable amounts of new cases every day, likely means the rest of the province will experience a few weeks of tragedy.

“I think in all likelihood… the numbers of hospitalizations and deaths will continue to increase for a few weeks yet,” Dr. Cory Neudorf said.

Read more: COVID-19 cases could be ‘flattening’ in Saskatoon, city leaders say

His colleague, Markus Brinkmann, is part of a University of Saskatchewan team that tests Saskatoon’s wastewater for the novel coronavirus.

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The RNA of the virus typically appears in the waste seven to 10 days before the infected people who are depositing the samples exhibit symptoms, providing a glimpse into the case numbers a week and a half later.

In November the water surveillance team warned of a rise in cases when there were roughly 35,000 copies of the virus per 100 mL of water. Brinkmann said the peak of that increase was on Dec. 2, when it jumped up to 40,000.

Over the past two weeks, he told Global News, that number is approximately 10,000.

“We do expect… to not see any drastic surges in new cases coming up here,” he said.

“For the time being, we can hypothesize that people have been smart in Saskatoon over the holidays,” he told Global News, speaking over Zoom.

Read more: ‘Drastic increase’ in COVID-19 cases likely for Saskatoon: researchers

He cautioned that number could still change. The window after New Year’s Eve opens at the end of this week.

But Neudorf, one of Brinkmann’s colleagues on the project, said the reduced testing numbers over the holidays means the rest of the province will likely not be as healthy.

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“I think that what we’re likely going to be seeing over the coming days is increased [case] numbers as the effects of people gathering together in various combinations over the holidays starts to play out,” he said.

The seven-day average of cases dropped between the start and end of December, from 266 on the 1st (and peaking at 292 on Dec. 12) to 157 on Dec. 31.

But the testing also plummeted during the month, from around 3,100 tests per day at the start of December to close to 1,200 around Christmas – though part of that decrease likely reflects reduced testing hours during the holiday season.

Neudorf said the number of new cases per day likely didn’t decrease and in fact probably increased.

Read more: University of Regina researchers, city track COVID-19 in wastewater

“The fact that numbers have been staying relatively stable [is] just because there hasn’t been as much pickup of the true positives that are out there,” he said.

“The real question is, have we maintained that high level of positivity throughout this whole month or is it, in fact, increasing at this point because we’re seeing similar numbers with fewer tests being done?”

“I would think that the latter is probably more true.”

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He said it was important for everyone to get the vaccine and not to alter their behavior, provided they’re getting tested as needed and abiding by health guidelines, until everyone is vaccinated.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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