JJ Elliot swears he follows the rules. He wore a mask before they were compulsory. He looks it up in his face when he walks up to someone walking through the Wascana Center, a huge park in Regina. It irritates her when people ignore directional arrows in grocery stores, destroying physical distancing protocols. If he goes to a pub, he wears a mask and washes his hands. But still, after a year of staying home and taking precautions, the coronavirus infected Mr Elliot this month.
Mr Elliot is one of 867 active cases of COVID-19 in Regina, which is sweeping through the Saskatchewan capital due to the most transmissible variants of the virus. Mr Elliot does not know where he contracted the virus or if it was a variant of concern, but he attributes his infection to Regina’s general situation: “It’s out of control,” the man said. 44 years.
Regina has become a case study of how rapidly variant strains of the coronavirus can disrupt efforts to contain COVID-19. Active cases of COVID-19 in Regina have doubled in the past month, compared to a 40% drop in Saskatoon, for example. In Regina, more relatively healthy and young people are in hospital compared to last year. The variants challenge previously effective public health measures such as distancing and masking, experts say.
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“Don’t think that what’s happening here won’t happen everywhere else,” said Alex Wong, an infectious disease doctor who works on the front lines in Regina. “Better just go through that last hard push – six to eight weeks – and then we’re done, and hopefully we’re in a new normal.”
The explosion of COVID-19 cases in Regina has forced the provincial government to tighten restrictions in the capital and surrounding communities.
Saskatchewan has identified 1,155 cases of variants of concern through its testing program throughout the pandemic. Of those, 973 cases were from the Regina area, according to data released Friday. B.1.1.7, the worrisome variant originally identified in Great Britain, constitutes the vast majority of transferred cases. There are 155 COVID-19 patients in hospital across the province, including 24 intensive care unit admissions. In the Regina area, 70 people with COVID-19 are in hospital and 16 of them are in intensive care.
Dr Wong said there was a belief that Regina variant cases would lag behind other urban areas because fewer city residents travel abroad compared to centers like Toronto or Calgary. . But Saskatchewan retrospectively examined COVID-19 positive samples from Regina between February and early March and the results showed that about 78% of those COVID-19 infections were linked to variants, Dr Wong said.
“We were like, ‘Oh, shoot.'”
The variants, as well as the early phase of the vaccination campaign, which targeted the elderly, are changing the demographics of hospitals, experts say. Of 35 intensive care admissions to Regina over the past month, only one was over 70, according to Scott Livingstone, chief executive of the Saskatchewan Health Authority. In addition, people under 40 make up half of the last 10 ICU admissions, the executive told reporters on Thursday.
“In recent weeks, we are being tested in a way that we have not been tested during the pandemic,” he said.
Alyson Kelvin, a virologist at the Vaccine Infectious Disease Organization at the University of Saskatchewan, said the health measures that worked last year are not enough to contain the variant strains.
“The variants play by different rules,” she said. “The transmission dynamics are not the same.”
Saskatchewan led the allocation of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to drive-thru clinics in Regina in an effort to control the spread. Premier Scott Moe on Tuesday announced targeted restrictions for Regina and other areas of southern Saskatchewan. Under the new restrictions, private gatherings inside are prohibited and travel inside and outside Regina is not recommended. Additionally, as of Sunday, restaurants are limited to take-out and delivery and other indoor event venues will have to close until at least April 5.
“This is exactly what I didn’t want to do,” Mr. Moe said. Regina said that as of Sunday, its community and recreation centers are to be closed. Regina Public Schools and Regina Catholic School Division are taking students to online learning before spring break due to the spread of the variant.
Andrew Cameron, a professor at the Institute for Microbial Systems and Society at the University of Regina, said the Regina situation underscores the importance of vaccinating as many people as possible as quickly as possible.
“The race is on and we are losing,” he said. “The longer we let go, the more variations can emerge.”
With a report from The Canadian Press
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