Ten new COVID-19 cases in P.A. Friday

Some of the cases from unidentified community spread, SHA says

No new deaths have been reported.

There are ten new cases of COVID-19 in Prince Albert, and nine more in regions surrounding the city, the province said Friday.

The 19 new cases in the North Central Zone are part of the 76 new cases identified Friday. North Central had the second-highest single-day increase Friday, behind Saskatoon with 34.

According to a press release, public health investigations are underway to determine the source of transmission for the new cases. It appears as if some of the new cases in Prince Albert and Saskatoon are “unknown community transmissions.”

That means there is some level of uncontrolled spread.  Most other COVID-19 zones saw a handful of new cases each, but the greatest increases were in North Central and Saskatoon.

According to Friday’s data, 22 people are I hospital, including four inpatients in the north central zone, six in Saskatoon, four in Regina and one each in the far north west and the north east.

Six people are in intensive care: one each in Regina and North Central and four in Saskatoon.

Yesterday, 2,190 COVID-19 tests were performed in Saskatchewan.

The province reminded residents about Halloween precautions — including avoiding large events that exceed gathering sizes and following door-to-door and retail trick-or-treating guidelines located at Saskatchewan.ca/covid19-halloween.

They include maintaining a two metre distance, using tools such as tongs to distribute candy at a distance, only distributing store-bought, individually-wrapped treats, using masks in costumes and on doorsteps and using hand sanitizer.

Researchers digging through sewage to predict virus trends before they happen

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan have partnered with the City of Saskatoon and the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) to develop a COVID-19 early warning system that samples the city’s wastewater to test for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19.

According to a press release issued Friday, people shed virus traces through their feces before COVID-19 symptoms are apparent. The research team found through lab analysis of wastewater samples from Saskatoon’s wastewater treatment plant that changes to the total amount of virus circulating in wastewater happens about a week ahead of changes indicated by case counts at COVID testing centres.

According to a press release, people who show up at testing stations are usually people who have symptoms or possible COVID exposure, missing most of the asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic cases. As the most accurate nasal swab is done 48 hours after symptoms show up and testing is not instant, test results show the past, not the present, the researchers said.

“We think we can give health officials at least a week’s notice on changes in the trend line,” said USask ecotoxicologist John Giesy. “Based on the latest data which shows the trend line is going up, I am predicting we will see a rise in cases for the next couple of weeks. We can also predict when outbreaks are declining, which will help planning for pandemic recovery.”

The research was only able to predict general trends — whether up or down — not specifics on how big a rise or fall there would be in cases.

“It’s really about comparing trends in test cases with wastewater virus concentrations,” said USask toxicologist Markus Brinkmann. “If the virus concentration in the wastewater swings up before we see an increase in COVID test cases, we would expect the curve of the test cases to increase in the upcoming week. Over the past two weeks, we have seen an exponential increase in virus copies in the wastewater.” 

Monitoring for the virus in Saskatoon’s wastewater began in July. The water is collected, sanitized with UV lights to neutralize any potential infection and then sampled for an RNA sequence specific to the virus to establish a total concentration in the sample.

“We can anticipate the rate of change in cases so that public health measures can be implemented in response,” said Brinkmann. “Epidemiologists get more accurate information about prevalence and health officials get a jump-start on allocating resources effectively.”

Results are created once a week. That data is then shared with the city and with the SHA.

“The SHA is pleased to be a partner since the inception of this research project, and this is another tool in our surveillance system kit to assist the health system in making decisions on where to focus efforts,” said Dr. Simon Kapaj, SHA’s medical health officer of environmental public health. “The early findings are shaping the public health response in Saskatoon and we believe this tool could assist other major cities in Saskatchewan.”

The project is funded by the Global Water Futures Program, and though originally intended to measure environmental contaminants, it pivoted to focus on COVID-19 research.

The research team hopes to expand their partnership to provide more frequent estimates of the virus load in wastewater and to expand to more cities in the province.

Right now, we’re limited in what data we can produce,” said Brinkmann. “If we had dedicated funding for this, we could increase the frequency of gathering and analyzing samples to three times a week, giving us more detailed information with which to perform a statistical analysis for potentially predicting new case numbers.”

Federal government announces over $200 M for COVID-19 support in Indigenous communities

Prime minister Justin Trudeau announced additional financial support for childcare, education and infrastructure in Indigenous communities on Friday.

Trudeau announced the government will be putting over $120 million towards early learning and childcare. This funding will go towards hiring additional staff and training for early learning and childcare facilities.

The government will also spend over $25 million “to help post-secondary institutions with increased costs related to the pandemic.” This money will go towards keeping staff on, adjusting courses for online learning, and implementing public health measures like more handwashing stations and space barriers.

“To the Indigenous post-secondary educations that spoke to me directly, you’ve been heard and we are acting,” minister of Indigenous services, Marc Miller said

Additionally, Trudeau announced over $59 million for First Nations communities to improve infrastructure in an effort to meet health and safety standards around COVID-19.

“This builds on the work already being done through the Indigenous community support fund moving forward we will continue to work with communities on what they need to protect people from this virus,” Trudeau said on Friday.

— With files from Kelly Skjerven