Newest evaluation of metropolis sewage exhibits large COVID-19 surge in Saskatoon

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Study suggests the increase in cases is driven by the Delta variant, but may not be reflected in diagnosed cases due to vaccination.

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Phil Tank Saskatoon StarPhoenix People walk along Broadway Avenue in this photo taken in Saskatoon, SK on Friday, June 25, 2021. People walk along Broadway Avenue in this photo taken in Saskatoon, SK on Friday, June 25, 2021. Photo by Matt Smith /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

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The Delta variant is suspected to be driving a COVID-19 surge in Saskatoon.

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The most recent analysis of the city’s wastewater shows a 253 per cent increase in the COVID-19 viral RNA load compared to the previous week, which ended July 21.

The latest study, which covers July 22 to last Wednesday, also shows a “marked increase” in the Delta variant, according to a summary by the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan.

Dr. John Giesy of the University of Saskatchewan said there are a couple of reasons why the spike might not be reflected in the current number of diagnosed cases.

“We think the primary reason is vaccination and the current numbers are primarily the Delta variant,” Giesy said in an interview Tuesday. “So what we think is going on is with this shift now to this Delta variant, we’ve got a lot of infected people, but they’re not sick enough really to go get tested is probably the best explanation we can see.”

The weekly sewage analysis shows rising numbers the last four weeks. The latest viral RNA load ranks as the highest since late April. A sewage analysis in late April suggested a 300 per cent jump in the RNA load, but that was never completely reflected in diagnosed cases.

Active cases in the Saskatoon zone, which includes communities outside city limits, dipped to a nine-month low of 45 last Tuesday before rising back up to 70.

About one-fifth of the RNA load in the study is identified as the Alpha variant, which marks a drop of 35 per cent from the previous analysis.

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The results of sewage testing in Saskatoon are confirmed at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. The national lab also boasts the capacity to test for the Delta variant that is lacking in Saskatoon. That’s why the exact percentage of the Delta variant in the current study is not yet known.

Giesy said he’s concerned about the implications of the Delta variant’s spread, especially with school returning in September and so many youth unvaccinated. COVID-19 vaccines in Canada have only been approved for those 12 and older.

About 26 per cent of those eligible to receive a vaccine in Saskatchewan have yet to receive a single dose.

“I hate to be a downer, but it is a worrisome concern,” Giesy said.

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  1. Saskatoon's wastewater treatment plant is seen on Tuesday, October 2, 2018, in this aerial photo. 
An analysis of wastewater in April suggested a surge in COVID-19 cases was coming in Saskatoon, but scientists are now stumped to explain why it never happened.

    Saskatoon COVID-19 surge predicted by sewage analysis not reflected in cases

  2. Health-care workers wait outside for patients at a drive-thru testing site for Covid-19 in Saskatoon, Saturday, September, 12, 2020.

    Saskatoon sewage analysis show 300 per cent increase in COVID-19

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