The current situation regarding COVID-19 is one where the public needs to remain particularly diligent in its action to prevent the disease and its spread.
That was the clear message from Dr. Ashok Chhetri, Medical Health Officer, Saskatchewan Health Authority in Yorkton in an interview April 19.
The great concern at present are variant strains of COVID getting a foothold, and Chhetri said they are being seen in the east central area, not that variants of viruses are that unusual.
“All the viruses do change or mutate from time-to-time,” he explained.
In some cases the changes are rather insignificant, and other times changes become more concerning.
“There are three variants of concern in Canada,” explained Chhetri, adding that the variants of concern are generally “more transmittable.”
In Saskatchewan the so-called ‘UK’ variant is currently of greatest concern as it is “40 to 70 per cent” more transmittable than the initial strain of COVID-19, offered Chhetri.
In addition, variants can be “more severe,” he said, adding they are seeing that across all ages.
With the initial COVID-19 virus for younger people “it was not that severe,” said Chhetri, but with variants they are seeing younger people facing “dire consequences.”
“We do have variants of concern (in the East Central region),” he said, adding in the past seven days “50 per cent (of cases) are the variant of concern.”
Chhetri said the transmission remains the same, person-to-person droplets being a prime way, but with the variant the likelihood of a person catching the virus is increased.
So, people need to continue to do the things that have been outlined by health officials for months now, wearing a mask, washing their hands, and staying as isolated as possible, especially from longer-person-to-person interactions.
“Do everything you can to reduce close contacts ... It’s all the preventative measures,” said Chhetri, adding people just need “to be more vigilant.”
The vigilance is a key to protect the general health care system for everyone, because with more transmittable variants more people are at risk of getting COVID, and with variants being more severe, more patients need hospital care and that puts a strain on Intensive Care Units, said Chhetri.
“It is concerning in Saskatchewan,” he said, adding they are seeing a wider range of ages requiring intensive care with the arrival of variants of concern.
Chhetri said there is concern the capacity in the province’s ICUs could be overwhelmed if infection numbers continue to be high.
There is however, some good news.
With the variants currently circulated in Saskatchewan at this time, the vaccines being given “are still effective on them,” said Chhetri.
Chhetri also noted that all three types of vaccines available in the province are not only effective against variants, but safe to take.
“They’re equally protective,” he said, adding while people will need a second dose, with one, after 14 days, they will have good protection for up to four months.
That said Chhetri added people should not assume that because they are vaccinated that they can’t in some cases carry the virus, or pass it to others, because to-date that data is just not known.
“There’s a small chance you could still be a carrier,” he said.
So, even the vaccinated need to follow protocols at this point.