Alberta’s two largest metropolitan areas appear to be experiencing an increase in COVID-19. At least, that’s what the wastewater data seems to show.
And according to this data, the amount of SARS-CoV-2 particles released into the Calgary and Edmonton wastewater systems is consistent with pre-Omicron highs.
The rolling average of SARS-CoV-2 levels in Calgary hit a low on March 7, and numbers have been rising ever since.
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“(Calgary has) gone down a lot,” Kevin Frankowski told Global News on Friday. He is Executive Director of Advancing Canadian Water Assets and Co-Leader of the Alberta-Wide Wastewater Monitoring Project.
“We are about 80% of the way to the top of wave 5, and for a while we just stayed level. And then the two of the last three data points (between March 16 and March 23), it went up a bit.
“Edmonton is similar, but there wasn’t that stage that we saw in Calgary.
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He said Banff’s sewage levels are trending up recently, but Fort McMurray’s levels are trending down, showing the regional nature of the pandemic in Alberta.
“I think the central message is that COVID is still here. We’re not out of COVID, it’s not over,” Frankowski said.
Reading the statistically noisy charts on the University of Calgary’s Center for Health Informatics (CHI) COVID-19 tracker is very helpful when looking for trends, he pointed out.
“If we see the numbers going up, that can influence our decisions about (things like), ‘Maybe I won’t go to that concert’ or ‘Maybe I’ll wear a mask voluntarily.'”
The sewage data only shows the amount of virus excreted by Albertans, not the number of people with COVID-19.
“Trust can’t just be on wastewater data,” Frankowski said. “People also need to take into account the other information available, including things like hospitalizations and intensive care admissions, because what is obvious is that when the virus mutates and changes in severity, it changes its profile. risk.”
Dr David Vickers, infectious disease epidemiologist and statistical associate at CHI, said that, as with previous waves, the exact trajectory of these trends is difficult to predict.
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“Given there’s been a lot of laxity from many ongoing prevention efforts, we might expect to see a bit of a rebound,” Vickers said, noting similar trends in PCR test positivity in areas of the Calgary and Edmonton Health Services in Alberta.
“Will it compete with pre-Omicron levels? It could. It could also drop quite noticeably.
The epidemiologist noted a similar national trend of a recovery after a downward slope from the peak of the wave caused by Omicron.
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Health Minister Jason Copping said Alberta Health and the chief medical officer of health are closely monitoring sewage levels, while noting there has been a recent and “slight rise”.
“We’ll wait and see what happens, but we’ll make the necessary adjustments,” he said on Friday.
Recent sewage data trends in Calgary show the same levels of COVID-19 RNA as at the height of the third wave in April 2021. Data from Edmonton and surrounding communities show that there are as many of COVID-19 RNA in the capital region than during the fourth wave of the pandemic, Frankowski said.
He said it’s hard to say if there are the same number of people sick with COVID-19 as in those previous peaks, but the trends remain.
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“It’s obviously less than at the top of Omicron, but it’s the same as the Delta wave,” he said. “And yet, hospitalizations are much lower than they were at the height of the Delta wave. And so it testifies to the fact that the symptoms, the severity of the disease have changed. »
Vickers noted that more Albertans have received vaccine doses and naturally acquired immunity since the fall of 2021.
And global warming could lower COVID-19 transmission as more people go outside, Vickers, a known phenomenon among coronaviruses, has said.
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In previous waves, PCR testing trends have tracked sewage trends by about six days in Alberta. But Alberta, like other provinces, has restricted access to PCR testing.
Vickers acknowledged that the decision can help from a budget perspective, particularly with the widespread use of cheaper rapid antigen tests. But there is a compromise.
“Rather than using two data sources, you use one.” he said. “And it’s kind of like putting all your eggs in one basket.”
“We have always maintained that wastewater data should not be used in isolation,” Frankowski added. “It should be combined with other data sources, preferably clinical test results.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a testing ground for the ability of wastewater-based epidemiology to monitor entire populations for more than just COVID-19, and at low cost, Frankowski said. He called it a “powerful platform”.
“Now that we’ve developed platforms, I think we should be looking at ways to keep rolling out the platform,” Frankowski said. “It provides a very different and very powerful tool, a new tool in the public health toolkit.
“I think it would be a shame to walk away from it just because the number of COVIDs has fallen below a certain threshold.”
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