Omicron over the holidays: Sask. releases modeling, public health recommendations
Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer says the province is not seeing “widespread community transmission” of Omicron, yet. However, he says it is only a matter of time before it becomes the dominant strain.
Government modeling shows daily cases, hospitalizations and ICU admissions will increase in the next month without stronger public health interventions, such as gathering limits.
The scenarios are based on the assumption that the Omicron variant is “much more transmissible than Delta,” with cases doubling roughly every five days. However, government officials say the preliminary scenarios come with “uncertainty” due to limited evidence.
However, Shahab says once we see “rapid dissemination” of Omicron to other parts of the province, officials will have to use public health measures to bend the curve.
"But we have to be quick, we have to be nimble with Omicron,” Shahab said.
“We can't take weeks to make decisions. Decisions have to be made in hours to days once we start seeing a surge."
Shahab says if a sudden surge happens in the a certain part of the province, regional public health orders may be put in place.
As of Tuesday, Saskatchewan had detected 82 cases of Omicron.
Of the province’s first 65 Omicron cases, one-third are linked to international travel, one-third related to interprovincial travel and one-third come from household transmission. Shahab could not provide the source of transmission for the remaining cases.
No one has been hospitalized due to Omicron in Saskatchewan.
“If we see a surge we will probably see higher case numbers than we’ve seen with Delta,” Shahab said.
Early data from the UK shows hospitalizations and deaths linked to Omicron, but the rate is lower than Delta, according to Shahab. However, he says the high transmissibility of Omicron could still have an impact on hospitals.
“If it’s half as severe but you have twice the number of cases you have the same pressure on the acute care system,” he said.
Going forward, Shahab says we should treat every positive case as though it is Omicron. Other provinces are already seeing Omicron take over Delta as the dominant strain, and he says it will be no different in Saskatchewan.
Shahab says the provinces overall cases are some of the lowest in the country, with the test positivity rate below five per cent and case rates below 5/100,000. Those are two of the indicators Shahab is monitoring to determine community spread.
‘Common cold-like symptoms’
Besides higher transmissibility, Omicron also presents different symptoms compared to other variants, according to epidemiologist Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine.
He says people should watch out for a runny nose, scratchy throat, slight headache and body aches, and a cough.
“Don’t expect not to have any sense of smell,” Muhajarine said.
“It’s the common cold-like symptoms that people experience with Omicron.”
Muhajarine says if people are experiencing these symptoms they should by-pass the rapid antigen self-tests and get a PCR test immediately.
Holiday gathering recommendations
Shahab says holidays will be different this year compared to last, as the majority of people are fully vaccinated in the province. However, he says we cannot take things for granted.
He says it is OK for people to gather safely over the holidays, but they need to keep their groups small and consistent. Shahab recommends limiting gatherings to two or three households with 10 to 15 people. If people are planning a larger event over the holidays, he says they should reschedule it.
“It’s been a tough two years for us and it is important that we stay connected with friends and family,” Shahab said, adding interprovincial travel can be essential for mental health if it means staying connecting with loved ones.
“We obviously can’t be in a state of lockdown continuously. At some point we have to emerge from the pandemic.”
Ultimately, he says people need to do their own personal risk assessment to determine what they are most comfortable with. Proper masking, getting a booster dose as soon as possible, and maintaining proper ventilation and airflow during indoor gathers will also help cut down on transmission, according to Shahab.
He suggests taking a rapid antigen test before gathering with a group of people and if you’re not feeling well, you should stay home.
Free rapid antigen test kits are being distributed at more than 500 locations province wide. A list of distributors can be found here.
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