Sask. wastewater studies show COVID-19 levels on the rise across province

·2 min read
A look at the UV filtering system used at the City of Saskatoon's wastewater treatment plant. (Submitted by the City of Saskatoon - image credit)
A look at the UV filtering system used at the City of Saskatoon's wastewater treatment plant. (Submitted by the City of Saskatoon - image credit)

The latest COVID-19 wastewater studies from the University of Saskatchewan and University of Regina show numbers are steadily climbing.

On Monday, the U of S study reported a 39.9 per cent in COVID positive samples in Saskatoon compared to the previous week. Meanwhile, Prince Albert saw an increase of 74.1 per cent and North Battleford saw an increase of 96.6 per cent.

Researchers said all three cities seem to be mirroring numbers seen in a previous COVID wave this spring.

In the latest weekly report, Saskatoon had its fourth highest COVID-19 numbers since the study began in 2020, while North Battleford and Prince Albert each saw their fifth highest.

The study takes samples taken from the cities' wastewater treatment plants and tests for traces of COVID-19. After that, health researchers use the data to predict whether diagnosed cases of COVID-19 are expected to increase or decrease.

"It is very, very high compared to what we have been seeing," U of S wastewater project manager and chemistry professor Femi Oloye said about the latest results.

"We don't base our judgment on just one week. We like to see week over week, and from what we have been seeing in recent times, it has been going up."

Oloye said it was difficult to say for sure whether cases will continue to rise. However, health officials across the province have long been concerned about the prospect of a large wave of COVID-19 hitting the province this fall.

Last month, the province's chief medical health officer said that masks could be required in public spaces again if cases continue to rise.

Oloye believes that if people follow health measures, cases will likely go down.

"If people abide by the rules, if they're sick and they stay at home, definitely it will plateau and calm down," he said.

"But if these people are sick and they keep transferring it from one person to the other, then it will keep going up."

Regina rising

Meanwhile, the University of Regina's wastewater research team said case numbers in that city remain high, but have not seen the spikes other cities have witnessed.

"We are around double the highest level of the Alpha wave, but we are still around 60 to 70 per cent of the highest level of the Omicron wave," said U of R molecular biologist Tzu-Chiao Chao.

"It's getting up there, but the increase that you're seeing is not the dramatic spike yet that we saw, for example, during Christmas."

Chao said the city has seen a gradual climb in COVID activity over the past several weeks.

He said his team is monitoring numbers especially carefully now that kids are back in school, which has historically been a driving force in flu-related illnesses.