Saskatoon wastewater samples are seeing a big increase in the Omicron variant since it was first discovered in the city last Tuesday.
The latest samples tested by the Global Institute for Water Security (GIWS) at the University of Saskatchewan show that Omicron accounts for 64.1 percent of the total COVID-19 virus volume in the Saskatoon sample.
That’s an increase of 808.2 percent since the variant was first discovered in Saskatoon wastewater on December 21st. The amount of virus in Saskatoon’s wastewater has increased by 87.7 percent since then.
“The Delta variant took about a month to become the dominant tribe. For Omicron, across Canada and around the world, it has only taken about two weeks. It was expected that Omicron would peak fairly quickly,” said Kerry McPhedran, associate professor in environment. engineer with the department.
He said this is because the strain is more easily transmissible than Delta and can affect vaccinated people.
“Relatively speaking, compared to the past, there is less viral load in the wastewater, but we probably expect the peak to go up again next week,” McPhedran said. “We may get an increase of 200 or 300 percent more at the next reading.”
When higher levels of virus are found in wastewater, it tends to indicate an increase in infections in the coming weeks. However, the U of S researchers said that an increase in new cases is not guaranteed, due to the fact that a large part of the population is vaccinated.
“It’s getting a little harder to track cases in relation to wastewater, especially when you have certain higher vaccination rates,” he said.
McPhedran said he hopes the numbers will not rise again, but it could take another two weeks to understand future trends and “to predict whether it will be a major high or not.”
“If we see the percentage increase fall next week, then it may indicate that we have actually already reached a peak,” he said, noting that it would be good.
Factors such as the increasing number of people who have received booster jabs and the amount of personal socializing during the holiday period are likely to have an impact on the case count, McPhedran said.
Meanwhile, two of the three cities monitored by researchers at the U of S have shown a decrease in the amount of the virus that causes COVID-19 in wastewater samples taken during the most recent test period.
These include Prince Albert and North Battleford. Both experienced a decrease in the amount of virus in their wastewater.
Viral load in Prince Albert’s wastewater has decreased by 86.6 percent in the most recent reporting period.
In North Battleford, wastewater has experienced a 85.7 percent drop in its viral volume.
“We can have pretty similar peaks [like Ontario and Quebec]Although we are a little more isolated in Saskatchewan, each area has different peaks, as the wastewater shows now, “McPhedran said.
While none of the samples analyzed in North Battleford so far have tested positive for the omicron variant, samples collected on December 15 and 17 in Prince Albert have tested positive for the problematic variant.
But since the readings were just slightly above the detection limit, their interpretation should be exercised with caution, says the U of S report.