Sask. modelling predicts Omicron-fuelled surge in COVID-19 cases without new measures

·4 min read
At a Tuesday news conference, Saskatchewan Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab recommended people in Saskatchewan cut their contacts by 50 per cent. However, he did not announce any new restrictions.  (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press - image credit)
At a Tuesday news conference, Saskatchewan Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab recommended people in Saskatchewan cut their contacts by 50 per cent. However, he did not announce any new restrictions. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Modelling released by the province Tuesday predicts a huge spike in COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan because of the Omicron coronavirus variant if no additional restrictions are implemented.

The modelling predicts daily cases could rise to more than 300 per day by Jan. 20, with case numbers doubling every five days, if no changes are made to pandemic measures like mask use and proof of vaccination rules.

Despite the projections, no new restrictions were announced during an online press conference held Tuesday morning.

Saskatchewan Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said if there is a surge in cases, he will recommend maximum capacity be limited to 50 per cent in public places.

For now, he recommends people reduce their contacts by 50 per cent.

"We know that over the next two or four weeks, Omicron will become the predominant [coronavirus] strain in Saskatchewan," Shahab said.

"We will see an increase in transmission … but we want to keep our numbers as low as possible while doing all the things that we can currently do and keep the slope as gradual as possible."

Province of Saskatchewan
Province of Saskatchewan

The modelling does suggest that with stronger public health interventions, case numbers could actually drop.

The province also cautions its modelling scenarios are preliminary, with uncertainty due to limited evidence, particuarly around the severity of COVID-19 cases caused by Omicron.

Shahab said early reports from other jurisdictions suggest the Omicron variant may cause less severe illness than the Delta variant has.

The early data also suggests that vaccines provide good protection from hospitalization in Omicron cases, and that the efficacy of vaccines against Omicron rises significantly after a third dose.

"That is great news for us as individuals, especially if you're vaccinated and now boosted, that vaccines and boosters will continue to protect us," Shahab said.

"But of course, if it's more transmissible and [if] we see twice the number of cases, that kind of balances out the benefit from it being less severe."

Province of Saskatchewan
Province of Saskatchewan

So far, the province has identified more than 80 COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant, but none have led to hospitalization, Shahab said.

"The aim … is to keep hospitalizations as low as possible to allow non-COVID care to not only resume, but continue," Shahab said.

He also said he understands some people may be concerned that no more restrictions are being implemented at this point.

"It's a balancing act," he said, adding masking mandates and proof of vaccination at certain establishments will continue.

The province has low COVID-19 case numbers right now and got a head start on distributing boosters — now available to anyone 18 and up, three months after their second vaccine dose, Shahab said. There has also been wide distribution of rapid test kits, he said.

"I think we should use that to our maximal ability while also being able to have small gatherings in a safe way."

Province of Saskatchewan
Province of Saskatchewan

Shahab said Omicron is highly transmissible and unpredictable, and the province will have to move quickly to intervene if there is a surge in cases.

"We have to be quick, we have to be nimble with Omicron. We can't take weeks to make decisions. Decisions have to be made in hours to days once we start seeing a surge."

Shahab said people need to be cautious over the holidays, but that the province is in better shape than last year.

"If people are attending concerts or events, wear your best mask, physically distance among households," he said.

For those with underlying risk factors, it's a good idea to participate virtually in "all those things that have continued to be important and remain important," said Shahab.

He added it would be wise to scale back the number of people you gather with over the holidays, noting the Nova Scotia motto of "20 is plenty" is something to adhere to.

Province of Saskatchewan
Province of Saskatchewan

He said it is important to do a rapid test before going to another person's home or to an event.

"We have a bit of a reprieve, but we can't take things for granted," Shahab said.

"Really be diligent about using the best mask you have, staying home if you're sick, self-testing before and after going to an event and improving ventilation … in our homes, offices, other public spaces."

The province reported 67 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. There are currently 98 people in hospital with the illness, including 31 in intensive care.

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