Wastewater stats show COVID cases up in the Hat

·4 min read

Wastewater samples collected by the University of Alberta indicate COVID-19 case numbers in Medicine Hat are rising at a rate greater than many other urban centres across the province.

Data shows a relatively steady increase in the presence of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material locally beginning at the end of February until now. On April 14, Medicine Hat averaged 230 genetic material per millilitre of wastewater. While that number dropped slightly between then and the most recent update of April 19, it is still nearing the fifth wave peak number of 320 g.m. per ml of wastewater, as was recorded on Jan. 27.

Local doctor and president of the section of emergency medicine with the Alberta Medical Association, Paul Parks, believes Medicine Hat’s wastewater data provides a reasonable estimate of the number of COVID-19 cases within the community, particularly as provincial testing practices have changed and likely no longer reflect actual positivity rates.

“We don’t really have good metrics anymore because the testing and surveillance has kind of been curtailed and stopped, so all the people out there who now are having symptoms and/or doing the rapid tests – if they can get them – they’re not counted in any way,” Parks told the News. “Wastewater is a reasonable surrogate … How are people getting sick; how severe is it; that kind of thing, it doesn’t give us that, but it’s a reasonable marker (for) keeping an eye on how things are trending in different areas.”

Parks trusts the city’s wastewater data and confirms he has seen an increase in the number of individuals seeking hospital treatment for COVID-19 in recent months.

“There’s no question Medicine Hat has had an uptake in a number of cases,” said Parks. “Case levels in Medicine Hat now, of hospitalized patients, are getting near as high as they’ve been in previous waves … We’ve had to actually re-implement … some of the processes we were doing in previous waves.”

While hospital numbers have increased, Parks confirmed ICU numbers remain low, largely due to the current dominant COVID strain being BA.2, a sub-variant of BA.1 (Omicron), which tends to present more flu-like symptoms rather than severe respiratory illness.

Nevertheless, Parks encouraged community members to continue exercising good health practises, like masking and frequent hand washing, as well as vaccination against COVID-19.

“We’re having a sixth wave right now … so, (I want to) remind people to protect themselves and do the simple things when they can,” said Parks. “It’s hitting everybody but the people who need to be hospitalized are the non vaccinated (and) more elderly … There’s still some people who are vaccinated who are getting admitted as well, but, at this point, the general pattern is people who are not vaccinated or very frail and have significant co-morbidities is who … need to be hospitalized.”

City councillor Alison Van Dyke recently took to Twitter to share the city’s wastewater numbers along with a message also encouraging community members to “stay safe.”

“Now that we don’t really have accurate PCR testing because it’s so restricted, and with rapid testing not being reported and not always being accurate, wastewater is really the only way we have to see what community levels are at,” Van Dyke told the News.

“As you can see from the wastewater … we’re getting close up to the previous Omicron wave. It’s easy to think the pandemic is over, but it’s not, especially when you see the (wastewater numbers) increasing all the time. So, I just want people to be cautious and be aware it’s still going on.”

While Van Dyke says she understands the desire to return to normal, she asks Hatters to continue making choices which benefit the community as a whole.

“We’re more than two years into this and people are tired of (it). People are tired of hearing about it, thinking about it, working around it, and it would be easy to just go on and think it’s not happening,” she said. “I think just people need to remember we have a responsibility of care to others in our community.”

KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News

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