Regina's rise in COVID-19 cases may be due to variant transmission: expert

·3 min read
Every province has had at least one case of a variant. Saskatchewan has identified three as of Feb. 19. 
Every province has had at least one case of a variant. Saskatchewan has identified three as of Feb. 19.

(Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty - image credit)

COVID-19 case numbers have been spiking in the Regina zone in the last four days more than in the Saskatoon zone.

Both Regina and Saskatoon have seen similar testing numbers over the last six weeks. When it comes to test positivity, Saskatoon is trending downward, but Regina's test positivity peaked two weeks ago, dropped, and is once again climbing.

The province declared 30 new cases in Regina on Friday, 78 on Saturday, 56 on Sunday and 48 on Monday.

Dr. Kyle Anderson, a biomedical professor at the University of Saskatchewan, said there is a possibility that this spike is due to COVID-19 variants.

"In the last couple of weeks, we can see that it's been going very much in the wrong direction compared to what Saskatoon is [doing]," Anderson said.

"And now we've got this sort of gap in between Saskatoon and Regina, which can't really be explained by the amount of tests done ... That means probably more cases are being produced."

Saskatoon is represented by blue, and Regina is represented by red. Saskatoon is seeing  a solid downtrend with COVID-19 cases, while Regina peaked two weeks ago, dropped, and is now creeping back up. Graph updated as of Feb. 21.
Saskatoon is represented by blue, and Regina is represented by red. Saskatoon is seeing a solid downtrend with COVID-19 cases, while Regina peaked two weeks ago, dropped, and is now creeping back up. Graph updated as of Feb. 21.

The two cities have the same COVID-19 policies, regulations and rules. Weather fluctuations have also been similar over the last six weeks, Anderson said. But something is causing cases to spike in Regina and not in Saskatoon.

"It could be localized outbreaks and secondary cases from those," Anderson said.

"But I think that the thing that epidemiologists ... would be worried about is that if there were to be new variants spreading in Regina, that would account for a higher rate of transmission and a higher test positivity."

Saskatchewan is not currently doing in-province testing on variants. Some samples are sent to Winnipeg for sequencing, which takes approximately two weeks.

"Right now we might be in this sort of window where if a new variant is starting to become more prevalent in Regina, the numbers would show it before the testing comes back to show that the variants are here," Anderson said.

Saskatoon is represented by blue, and Regina is represented by red. These are the number of tests by 100,000 people. Graph updated as of Feb. 21.
Saskatoon is represented by blue, and Regina is represented by red. These are the number of tests by 100,000 people. Graph updated as of Feb. 21.

The variants of concern, first found in the U.K., Brazil and South Africa, have been shown to be more transmissible.

Every province has had at least one case of a variant. Saskatchewan has identified three as of Feb. 19.

Those three people tested positive for the B117 variant first found in the U.K. All the cases were linked to recent travel. No other variant cases have been announced since Feb. 5.

In each case, the province said there was no evidence of community spread.

As of Thursday, Alberta had identified 239 variant cases. As of Friday, Manitoba had identified four.

"There's a lot of migration from [Alberta] to here people going from work, people doing essential jobs. And it's sort of naive for us to think that [the variants are] not here or wouldn't be coming here and that at some point in time we are going to have community transmission of these variants, just as we've seen in Alberta," said Anderson.

Anderson said that in the meantime, Saskatchewan residents should focus not on meeting the provincial guidelines, but exceeding them.

"We're getting so close to the finish line where our most vulnerable people are going to be vaccinated and we don't want to essentially fall down with 10 meters left in the race. We want to make sure that we are remaining at that high vigilance of making sure that we're masking and hand washing."

Anderson says spreading out grocery trips further will help as well.

CBC has reached out to the Saskatchewan Health Authority for comment.