COVID-19 variant could be dominant in Alberta by March, Calgary researcher predicts
CALGARY -- What's known as the United Kingdom variant of COVID-19 could become a dominant strain in the province by March 4, according to projections by a Calgary researcher.
"It’s very concerning because once it becomes dominant then it spreads much, much faster than the old one," said Dr. Gosia Gasperowicz, a developmental biologist who analyzes case data to forecast future cases.
Gasperowicz is conducting the modelling independent from her work at the University of Calgary.
"In matters of weeks we can get to thousands of daily new cases and then it will be super, super difficult to control it," said Gasperowicz, who said the projection of spread was determined prior to the easing of restrictions in Alberta that began this week.
As of Tuesday, 104 variant cases of COVID-19 have been detected in Alberta, some not linked directly to travel. This includes 97 of the UK variant and seven of the variant first identified in South Africa.
Variant strains of the virus have now been discovered in seven provinces. Ontario had its first case of a variant from Brazil.
“I know there are concerns about one of these more contagious variants becoming the dominant strain in the province. There is serious worry for me too,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, during her daily update Tuesday.
Dr. Hinshaw notes the variant cases make up only a fraction of all infections.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also addressed concerns Tuesday.
"I think we're all worried about the arrival of new variants and the impact that could have even as we are working hard to get everyone vaccinated as quickly as possible," said Trudeau. "There are real questions about what the impacts these variants will have both on the spread of COVID-19 and on the impact of vaccines.
According to Gasperowicz, what could potentially stop the variants from becoming dominant strains is a strict supported lockdown similar to what was utilized in New Zealand and parts of Australia.
She said tight quarantines rules for interprovincial travellers and international travellers would be required to prevent the arrival of additional cases.
According to the province, right now six different classes have been exposed to students with the variant.
The Alberta Teachers’ Association is watching the data closely.
"I’m very concerned about what that could mean in terms of our communities and then what that could mean for our schools," said Jason Schilling, ATA president.
Schilling says he has voiced concerns about strengthening existing protocols to the minister of education.
"We want to make sure that we have the best possible plan in place to address the variants because it could be a real game changer," explained Schilling. "We have been talking to government about making sure that we are addressing things like class size so that we can make some of our largest classes smaller so that students are better able to socially distance.
"We need to also have a conversation about ventilation about getting better PPE into schools if this is the case, if the variant should take hold."
Schilling said conversations need to happen to consider whether scenarios need to change to have fewer people in schools at one time and whether more staff need to be hired to keep schools clean.
Based on Gasperowicz’s modelling, the Alberta Federation of Labour is calling the re-opening plan reckless and asking the premier to not ease restrictions so the variants don’t gain traction.
Gil McGowan, the presidents of Alberta’s largest worker organization wrote a letter to the premier.
“The consensus among experts is that you (Kenney) removed pandemic restrictions too soon in the spring. Instead of driving infection rates down to zero when you had the chance, you took your foot off the gas and allowed the virus to gain traction and get ahead of us again,” McGowan wrote in the letter, according to a press release.
McGowan said he is going to start promoting the idea of moving to a zero-COVID strategy seen in other places and challenge leaders in other sectors to do the same.