Expert calls for lockdown amid rising variant cases in Regina

·4 min read
Local ICU patients are younger and in more serious conditions with coronavirus variants of concern than they were earlier in the pandemic, said Dr. Maurice Hennink, a medical health officer for Regina with the Saskatchewan Health Authority. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Local ICU patients are younger and in more serious conditions with coronavirus variants of concern than they were earlier in the pandemic, said Dr. Maurice Hennink, a medical health officer for Regina with the Saskatchewan Health Authority. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The number of COVID virus cases with variants of concern (VoC) in Regina is spiking and has led one infectious diseases doctor to call for a local lockdown.

In total, 141 of all 156 confirmed VoC cases in Saskatchewan were in Regina, as of March 21. There were 625 presumptive VoC cases in the province and 527 of those were in the capital. That compares with eight VoC cases in the province, six of which were in Regina, two weeks ago on March 8.

The variant cases are spreading so quickly that Regina is now at a critical point, and needs to act right away to stop it, said Dr. Alex Wong, an infectious disease doctor in the capital.

"It's already causing real strain on our acute-care capacity, on our ICU capacity," Wong said. "There's no way that we are going to be able to have the capacity and the wherewithal to be able to control what it is that we're dealing with now in the city."

Pandemic expected to get worse

Not only are there more critically ill patients and hospitalizations, but Wong said he thinks the situation will escalate and be worse than anything Saskatchewan has seen so far in this pandemic.

"We've got to go back to the basics, and the basics are eliminating as much contact as we can between individuals, very aggressive contact tracing to try to get cases traced very quickly, and to get close contacts isolated very quickly."

Dr. Alex Wong, an infectious diseases specialist, said a lockdown is needed in Regina to control the rapid spread of coronavirus variants of concern.
Dr. Alex Wong, an infectious diseases specialist, said a lockdown is needed in Regina to control the rapid spread of coronavirus variants of concern. (CBC News)

The provincial Ministry of Health is responsible for putting in restrictions or measures to deal with the pandemic and they have not responded to CBC Saskatchewan's request for comment yet today.

Dr. Maurice Hennink, a medical health officer for Regina with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), told The Morning Edition that Regina residents should take appropriate actions.

Currently, capitial residents are able to create 'bubbles' of two to three households, with a maximum of 10 people. People are also able to gather outside in groups up to 10, if physical distancing can be maintained between households. Stores and restaurants are open with limited capacity and sport practices are possible with some restrictions.

Wong warned that Regina needs to do more quickly because the city already has the highest proportion of VoCs per 100,000 people of anywhere in Canada.

'We need an aggressive lockdown'

"It's too out of hand … we're in a situation where I don't think we can just rely on public faith and goodwill," Wong said. "We need an aggressive lockdown — whatever you wish to call it, circuit breaker — to curb transmission as quickly as possible."

Provincial modelling by the SHA presented to doctors on March 16 said the rate of transmission in the province is expected to accelerate with VoCs. The modelling suggested that intensive care numbers could jump from 29 to more than 120 by May under the current restrictions.

In a presentation to doctors on March 16 that was then posted online, the Saskatchewan Health Authority shows how ICU numbers could grow if no new public health measures are put into place.
In a presentation to doctors on March 16 that was then posted online, the Saskatchewan Health Authority shows how ICU numbers could grow if no new public health measures are put into place. (Submitted by Saskatchewan Health Authority)

The modelling also indicated the health system is at risk of being overwhelmed and must be ready for a surge in cases. Hennink said it's concerning, but simply a model at this time.

Wong said hospitals are already seeing the increase.

"This is unlike anything that we've seen so far and it would be a real shame if we didn't respond as we need to with vaccines so close," Wong said.

As of March 21, about 35,743 vaccinations have been done in Regina and 139,827 in the province.

Variants affecting younger people more than original strain

Hennink said people in the 20-39 age category are being affected by the VoCs, even more than they were with the original strain.

"Our colleagues working in the ICU are also concerned because they're seeing patients sicker, younger and presenting earlier in their disease outcomes," he said. "It's just something to be concerned about."