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Living with COVID-19 means being vigilant, Saskatchewan researcher says

The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 has been declining in Saskatchewan over previous weeks, but Dr. Alyson Kelvin doesn’t believe the pandemic is over yet.

“I can’t predict anything other than expecting that we’ll see new variants and they… (will have) various degrees of severity,” she said, in an interview with Global News.

“It’s something that keeps me up at night.”

Kelvin is a vaccinologist and virologist at the University of Saskatchewan’s VIDO-InterVac lab, where she’s developing a new COVID-19 vaccine.

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She said its very likely the need won’t go away.

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Roughly 100 years ago the planet was recovering from another pandemic, the 1918 flu.

The particular strain that caused so many deaths was replaced by a more transmissible and less lethal version.

That strain was also superseded by a newer variant, as was that variant and the next several iterations.

That might sound similar to the evolution of the novel coronavirus, with the less lethal Omicron strain outcompeting the more virulent Delta.

But the WHO declared Omicron to be a Variant of Concern just a few weeks after scientists first spotted it — showing how quickly things can change.

Most people on the planet aren’t yet fully vaccinated and Kelvin said a new — and worse — variant could yet emerge.

She said she’s staying vigilant.

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“(In terms of) letting my daughter play soccer, if I have to show up on a mask to decrease transmission – I’m really happy I get to see her play,” she told Global News.

That vigilance extends to monitoring COVID-19.

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She said that should mean regular testing.

Monitoring hospitalizations can also show if a new variant has emerged, if there is a large increase in admissions.

But doing so doesn’t indicate a new variant is spreading in the population, only that it already has.

One of the main methods of gauging whether COVID-19 is spreading in the province has been wastewater monitoring.

John Giesy, a University of Saskatchewan toxicologist who runs the team who check the levels of COVID-19 RNA in Saskatoon, Prince Albert and North Battleford, said they will likely run it for another year if they have the funding.

His definition of living with COVID-19 also involves vigilance, which can be especially trying because many people are exhausted after two years of living in the pandemic.

“If (the virus) pops up again like it did (with Omicron), we won’t know soon enough,” he said.

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Giesy has watched the amount of COVID-19 rise and fall in the province by monitoring the wastewater.

He said the weariness could affect how it spreads in the future, should a new variant emerge, because limiting the spread effectively requires strong action.

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“You have to stop all interactions, period,” he said.

“You can’t take half measures and say, ‘we’re going to reduce the number of people at gatherings’ or ‘we’re going to shorten the hours that bars are open,’ that that really does nothing.”

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Kelvin said our vulnerability to COVID-19 will depend on two things – how long and to what degree the administered vaccines will enable someone’s immune system to stave off serious infections and whether the administered vaccines will provide protection against new variants.

She said living with COVID doesn’t mean the disease is endemic.

Whereas the term “pandemic” refers to a new health issue that has spread around the world, “endemic” refers to something that is predictable and consistent.

She said COVID is anything but.

Even the modern flu isn’t truly endemic, she said, because the number of people in hospital still fluctuates even if the seasonality doesn’t.

Both Kelvin and Giesy said they really didn’t know what would happen next with COVID-19, whether a new variant of concern would emerge or not.

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Both said one very well could.

So, living with COVID, it seems, means getting used to that fact. And it certainly means life won’t look like it did before the pandemic.

Click to play video: 'Sask. NDP call for a returning to daily reporting of COVID-19 statistics'

Sask. NDP call for a returning to daily reporting of COVID-19 statistics

Sask. NDP call for a returning to daily reporting of COVID-19 statistics

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