University of Saskatchewan researchers using wastewater to determine the breadth of COVID-19 in the community have found the Omicron subvariant BA.5 is becoming more prominent but isn't quite the dominating strain of the virus in the province.
The latest report released from the research team Sunday said the total viral load remains "relatively low, which indicates a fairly constant level of infections in all three cities," meaning includes Saskatoon, North Battleford and Prince Albert.
John Giesy, a lead researcher on the project, says the take-home message is everything is low. He also said that Delta is no longer being found in wastewater and has been replaced by Omicron.
Of the three cities, Prince Albert is the only city where the BA.5 subvariant is not becoming more pronounced in the COVID-19 landscape.
This most recent report found the subvariant comprised 45.9 per cent of known infections in Saskatoon and 48.1 per cent in North Battleford.
In Prince Albert, this most recent study did not find any any viral load with the BA.5 subvariant, compared to the prior report which found it composed about one-fifth (19.4 per cent) of infections.
Giesy said he "has no idea" why there's a notable absence of the strain but said the virus tends to have a delayed effect on the city, following a couple weeks later than Saskatoon.
That doesn't mean there isn't BA.5 in Prince Albert, but that there are so few cases that it's not being picked up in their research, Giesy said.
Instead, BA.2 and its subvariants — with BA.2.12.1 being most prominent — have a strong foothold when it comes to COVID-19 infection in the city.
COVID-19 viral load below average
Despite a spike in viral load in North Battleford, an increase of 214.7 per cent from last week, and a slight increase in Saskatoon, the researchers say all three cities remain below the average load measured since January 2022.
"The main thing is they're all pretty low," Giesy said.
"When we're near our detection limit and there are not that many infected individuals, things bounce around a little bit."
The University of Regina, which records the wastewater data for Regina, said in a note posted to social media that its results would be shared on Tuesday.