Right now, new infections have hit a plateau, but growing pressure on Saskatchewan’s health-care system means the province must impose more protective measures to slow hospitalizations and deaths, experts say.
“Well, at this stage, I think gathering restrictions are the next highest priority,” said Dr. Cory Neudorf, interim senior medical health officer with the Saskatchewan Health Authority.
“The analysis of where cases are coming from right now, it’s still very much coming from household transmission and those kinds of group gatherings, so that’s why the calls for further restrictions for these next few weeks is being asked for.”
The request comes after Saskatchewan recorded 11 COVID-19-related deaths on Wednesday – matching the single-day high set on Dec. 12, 2020. Five new deaths we’re recorded on Thursday.
As of Thursday, 335 people were being treated in hospital, 75 of whom are in intensive care. Of the total hospitalizations, 74.9 per cent were not fully vaccinated.
With these developments, Saskatchewan health officials said they are prepared to send critical COVID-19 patients to Ontario.
Furthermore, Saskatchewan has stopped all elective surgeries, started cancelling urgent surgeries and admitted adults into its children’s hospital. Additionally, more than 160 health-care workers have been redeployed.
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To help calm the surge, officials have reintroduced public health measures over several weeks, including mandatory indoor masking, proof of vaccination and mandatory self-isolation.
Even retired police officers are being brought in to help with enforcing public health orders, the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency said Wednesday.
Those choices were defended by Health Minister Paul Merriman at a news conference on Thursday.
“We have had restrictions … but again the public health measures aren’t going to necessarily fix all of the issues – this is a stop-gap,” he said.
“The best tool that we have in this is our vaccines. Last year around Thanksgiving time, we had a lot of public health measures in place, but then we didn’t have vaccines and now we do.”
However, Saskatchewan’s vaccination rate isn’t high enough for vaccines alone to protect the population, Neudorf said.
Right now, 85 per cent of the eligible population is partially vaccinated while 76 per cent is fully vaccinated. In Canada, those numbers sit at 88 per cent and 82 per cent, respectively according to covid19tracker.ca, a tool run by a University of Saskatchewan student that’s based on official updates from each province.
“Until you reach a sufficient level of population immunity, you still need a combination of other restrictions as a stop-gap measure until the vaccines can do their work,” Neudorf said.
“So it’s not a question of either-or, it’s a question of maintaining appropriate levels of public health measures until you reach that critical mass of immunization coverage, and we’re not there yet in Saskatchewan.”
Among the provinces, Saskatchewan has the highest rate of active cases with 375 per 100,000 residents as of Wednesday.
The province, which has a population of just over 1.1 million, sits behind the Northwest Territories for the highest rate of active cases per capita in Canada. The territory has an active case rate of 740 per 100,000 residents, and has a population of 45,000 people.
Saskatchewan’s current COVID-19 wave stems from the summer, when the province eased public health measures.
At that time, the weekly average for daily cases was 43 and continued to fall after restrictions were lifted. However, as time went on, the Delta variant brought those numbers up.
Not only have case counts increased, but the number of deaths and hospitalizations have as well. When the province eased restrictions in July, Saskatchewan’s total death count was 573.
Since then, 196 more residents with COVID-19 have died, bringing the total to 769 as of Thursday according to covid19tracker.ca.
On July 28, 43 people were in hospital with COVID-19. Now, 335 are hospitalized.
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While the province did bring in renewed measures, Premier Scott Moe has rejected calls to re-impose gathering restrictions in the province, and faced criticism for not doing so ahead of the Thanksgiving long weekend.
“We’re not going to be implementing broad-based restrictions on 80-some per cent of the population that has gone out and gotten their first shot,” he said during a briefing last Thursday.
The province will see in a few days if Thanksgiving gatherings will have an impact, Neudorf said.
“There was a lot of messaging that was going out from physicians, from various organizations, from the health authority around asking people to limit those gatherings regardless,” he said.
“I always think it’s more effective when that’s also is backed up by government announced restrictions.”
Dr. Katharine Smart, president of the Canadian Medical Association, told Global News that long-term health issues might further strain the health-care system as a result of this wave.
“Really trying to limit the number of people who are infected is critical because the toll is not just the short-term impact on hospitals, which has reached a critical point, but it’s also the ongoing stressors on the health-care system,” she said.
“So when you bring all this together, it’s really pushing things to a much more critical area.”
–With files from David Giles
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