COVID-19 variant spread prompts Regina school divisions to switch to online learning

·3 min read

REGINA — Concerns about a growing number of more infectious COVID-19 cases in the Regina area have prompted some school divisions to restart online learning.

Regina Public Schools, the city's largest division, announced Friday that it will start transitioning students to remote classes until after spring break on April 12.

Regina Catholic Schools says all students will also learn at home for the week before the break.

Another 174 new COVID-19 infections were reported provincewide Friday, including 86 in the Regina area.

Most of Saskatchewan's 156 confirmed variant cases and 434 of the 508 probable cases have been found in and around the capital. They have been the B.1.1.7 strain, which was first identified in the United Kingdom.

The number of variant cases believed to be in the region has been steadily rising for at least a week.

"Many of Regina's cases are a result of people going to work and public places while symptomatic," Health Minister Paul Merriman said in a statement Friday.

"If you have any symptoms, stay home and arrange for a COVID-19 test."

The Saskatchewan Party government has so far rejected calls to bring in tougher public health measures to combat the variant spread. Instead, it has asked older Regina-area residents to stay home and opened a vaccine drive-thru clinic in the city.

New modelling shows Saskatchewan could see more people in intensive care after restrictions around private gatherings were loosened. Earlier this month, the government started allowing a maximum of 10 people to gather in a home.

The data, recently presented to doctors during a virtual town hall by the Saskatchewan Health Authority, was posted publicly Friday.

Dr. Jenny Basran, a senior medical information officer, warned the average number of new cases, hospital admissions and deaths could be deceiving.

"When you're looking at the overall provincial picture, it gives this kind of false sense of security that in fact, the numbers are coming down," she told doctors.

She cited how jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom saw cases of the original strain declining as more transmissible strains like B.1.1.7 were rising, which made the caseload appear as if it was plateauing.

The health authority also noted more people are heading directly into intensive care.

"Starting to see what we feared: Younger patients presenting with more severe illness to our hospitals and ICUs," health authority chief medical officer Dr. Susan Shaw tweeted on Friday.

The authority's presentation to doctors forecasts what-if scenarios for how the virus could spread under different levels of public interaction, and with more infectious COVID-19 variants in the community.

The modelling shows that if people continue with their current behaviour and there is a rise in private gatherings while variants spread, there could be 140 people in ICUs near the end of May.

There are currently 27 people in intensive care across the province and a total of 133 patients in hospital.

The modelling shows the number of patients in intensive care could be much lower this spring if more people work from home and there are no private indoor gatherings.

In a statement, Merriman said the modelling is only one tool in determining the province's public health response and "does not take our current vaccination totals into account."

Saskatchewan has so far performed 125,000 vaccinations.

On Friday, the Saskatchewan Party government lifted the cap on how many people are allowed to attend worship services in every health zone expect Regina and surrounding communities.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2021

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press