Coronavirus variants fuelling surge of cases in southwest Sask.; one becomes dominant strain in Moose Jaw

·3 min read
Moose Jaw is seeing a surge in cases linked to Easter gatherings, says medical health officer Dr. David Torr. (Tourism Moose Jaw - image credit)
Moose Jaw is seeing a surge in cases linked to Easter gatherings, says medical health officer Dr. David Torr. (Tourism Moose Jaw - image credit)

Coronavirus variants are fuelling a COVID-19 surge in southern Saskatchewan, including the city of Moose Jaw, says medical health officer Dr. David Torr.

Torr, who is medical lead for south rural Saskatchewan, said the variant first detected in the U.K. has become the dominant strain in the city, adding pressure on the local hospital.

More beds were created at the Dr. F.H. Wigmore Regional Hospital after the intensive-care unit reached capacity.

"One of the challenges we're having is the hospitals are full.... You can add a couple of beds," he said. "It's not like you can add 10 more beds. Remember also we have limited staff; we can not expand beyond what our staff can manage."

ICU beds have been added to the Dr. F.H. Wigmore Regional Hospital in Moose Jaw to meet the needs of a rising number of COVID-19 patients.
ICU beds have been added to the Dr. F.H. Wigmore Regional Hospital in Moose Jaw to meet the needs of a rising number of COVID-19 patients. (Neil Cochrane/CBC News)

In the past month, the south central region has seen a 46 per cent increase in COVID-19 cases, with nearly 400 new cases reported in the area.

Not only is the region seeing a surge in cases, but there's also a surge in the number of towns and villages that are impacted.

"It's a real fast spread," Torr said. "Where it has not been previously, it is becoming pretty much the dominant factor, the variants of concern."

The variants of concern appear to be more transmissible and potentially more deadly, and may also transmit for longer periods of time in infected individuals and bind to our cells more easily — providing more opportunities for infected people to spread the virus.

On Wednesday, the Saskatchewan Health Authority issued a public health alert warning residents in Maple Creek, Swift Current, Rosetown, Kindersley, Davidson, Moose Jaw, Outlook and their surrounding areas of increased risk of coronavirus variants.

A day later, Health Minister Paul Merriman confirmed a superspreader event in southwest Saskatchewan has been linked to at least 21 cases.

New surge stems from Easter gatherings

Torr said the recent surge stems from Easter activities, including outdoor gatherings like barbecues where people did not follow public health orders.

"We're sort of paying for that with the cases we're seeing and the surges we're seeing," Torr said.

He said people were socializing outside of their bubble, and "there was a lot of inter-town and inter-provincial travel" that occurred.

Torr said several of the functions had people eating and drinking together while not wearing masks.

Before the Easter weekend, Torr was among the province's medical health officers that pleaded with the public in an open letter to stay put over the long weekend.

He's still pleading.

"Let's not take this as a joke," Torr said. "It's serious stuff."

Dr. David Torr says people can help by getting vaccinated and wearing a proper mask.
Dr. David Torr says people can help by getting vaccinated and wearing a proper mask.(CBC)

Torr said a major driving factor in cases rising has been non-compliance with health orders.

"The most important thing, no matter how many measures you put into place, they are only as effective as people complying with them," Torr said.

"That's where the challenge is. People need to realize: stay away as much as possible from crowds or forming of gatherings. Now is not the time to do that. We need to stay in our bubbles."

His last pieces of advice: get vaccinated and get a proper mask with three layers.

"There are so many types of fancy masks out there, and they're unfortunately not effective."