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Sask. university professor calls for more masking on campus as infection rates rise

A University of Saskatchewan professor is asking for mask use to return to campus as the number of infections of COVID-19 reached the fourth-highest of the pandemic, according to wastewater research done by the university.


“Case counts and COVID infections, the number of COVID infections are going up on campus and in Saskatoon, and masking is a really simple way…to break that chain of transmission,” said Stephen Urquhart, professor of chemistry. 


“If a student tells me 'Look, I’ve got to be absent, I have COVID', I report the number and the university has numbers of reported infections. Maybe not all infections get reported, but the numbers have gone up consistently since the start of term unfortunately, and we're seeing the absences in our classes.”


Schools across Saskatoon are seeing absences in classrooms, though that doesn’t mean COVID-19 is necessarily the culprit.


Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said children are usually the first ones to get coughs and colds in the fall.


“The schools are aware and do let Public Health know. Generally, if more than 10 per cent of children are away at any given time that's flagged,” he said.


“We look at school absenteeism. We look at hospitalization pressures. We look at it, obviously, our lab testing profiles for not just COVID, but influenza, other respiratory viruses, and all of that gives us an indication of what's transmitting.”


Chair of the University of Saskatchewan’s pandemic response and recovery team Dr. Darcy Marciniuk said the university was paying close attention to cases of the virus, which can be measured on campus.


“Our cases which were 168 on campus last week, we've had eight prior weeks with higher cases. That number is about 56 per cent of a peak that we had in the spring when we had full on campus cases. We're also monitoring the wastewater, which plateaued last week. It's there, but it's plateaued,” he said.


Dr. Marciniuk said the university’s current policy was that masking was preferred, but at this time there was no plan to mandate masks.


“We don't want to bring back a mask mandate if the uptake and the indications for mandatory masking are not there. We're going to lose credibility and trust,” he said.


“Some people are looking for black and white, and the reality is we're living in a lot of grey. That's our life right now, and so our job is to understand, to assess, and to thrive in that grey rather than be troubled by it.”


Premier Scott Moe says the province is not considering implementing any other public health measures.


“At this point in time due to a number of factors, one of them being our health system is not in a position where it was when we did implement public health measures here in the province, that there's none that are under consideration at this point in time,” he said.


Urquhart said it’s great to be back in classrooms and in person with students rather than instructing via zoom, and wearing masks makes it easier for people to remain in classrooms.


“Pouring your energy into a screen where you're not getting the student reactions is, it's harder, and the passion of being in the classroom is so much better, and it still works if I'm like this,” he said, holding a mask over his mouth.


“I can see the eyes, I can see the reaction, when I screw up I can see the eyes drift away and I can come back as an instructor and do better. So, it's great to be back and we can still have that greatness with masks.” Top Stories

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