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Home News Emotional chief medical health officer urges Sask. residents to be more proactive in fighting COVID-19

Emotional chief medical health officer urges Sask. residents to be more proactive in fighting COVID-19

Emotional chief medical health officer urges Sask. residents to be more proactive in fighting COVID-19
Dr. Saqib Shahab speaks to media during a COVID-19 update in Regina on Sunday, March 15, 2020. -- Screen capture.

An emotional Dr. Saqib Shahab said it’s been distressing for healthcare workers to watch so many otherwise healthy young Saskatchewan residents die in hospital due to COVID-19.

Active case numbers dropped for the fourth straight day on Wednesday, however hospitalization numbers remain high, and vaccine uptake among Saskatchewan residents remains low. Shahab, Saskatchewan’s chief public health officer, audibly wept during a media briefing with reporters over the noon hour on Wednesday, and tearfully asked residents to take the fourth wave much more seriously.

“It is very distressing to see unvaccinated young, healthy ending up in ICU and dying,” Shahab said during the update. “I’m watching this from a distance, but the pressure this puts (on healthcare staff) … we talked about burnout … (and) to see young lives lost to a vaccine preventable disease, how can we accept this in a country where we’ve had vaccines available for everyone since July?”

Shahab made the comments while giving a modeling update that showed a difficult three to four months ahead if the province’s hospitalization rates don’t start dropping. The province transported its second and third patients to Ontario on Wednesday to help deal with the lack of available beds.

The Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency says it is prepared to send more in the near future. They have also moved extra beds into a spare storage room at St. Paul’s hospital in Saskatoon to create more space.

“The rate at which our vaccination rate is now happening is too slow, and that really needs to pick up,” Shahab said. “I am certainly not willing to accept that Saskatchewan should be the lowest in first or second doses. I don’t see why we can be like other provinces or jurisdictions, who now have 95 per cent plus vaccination rates, or many workplaces that have 98 per cent plus vaccination rates. That is what I think we should expect from each other in Saskatchewan.”

Provincial health data shows unvaccinated residents are six times more likely to get COVID than those who are vaccinated. They are also 13 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 28 times more likely to end up in the ICU.

Shahab’s modelling data shows the province will hit nearly 300 COVID ICU hospitalizations by March 2022 if current behavior remains unchanged. The best case scenario shows ICU admissions declining to below 50 by mid-November. That’s if residents reduce close contacts for the next 28 days, and continue to follow public health orders like the indoor mask mandate. The province also needs to start giving booster shots to residents age 60 and older.

Shahab said they’re aiming for a baseline of 10 COVID-19 ICU patients out of 40 total COVID-19 hospitalizations.

“Given current projections, case numbers are too high for us to relax over the December holidays,” Shahab said.

“If we can really work hard over the next three to four weeks, reduce our number of contacts, get vaccinated, stay home if we are sick, and if we can really push our case numbers down, it will still take several weeks for the ICU hospital (numbers) to come down.

“We need to be very careful over Halloween,” he added. “House parties, there’s lots of people mixing unvaccinated. That could be a recipe for future challenges.”

Shahab said it’s up to the government to determine whether to more public health orders are necessary. However, he urged Saskatchewan residents to be proactive and get vaccinated, which will reduce the need for further measures.

“Christmas season is a while away,” he said. “If we do get our case numbers down, (and) also our hospitalizations down a significant extent … then we could cautiously hope for a better holiday season, but we all have to work towards that.

“I know that we can bring lack of public health orders and lack of government action, and that may be true to some extent, but ultimately, it is up to all of us.”

Shahab said one-third of new cases are in school age children, however only 23 per cent those new cases are school related. Household transmissions are the primary cause of COVID spikes, and Shahab said they’ve seen several outbreaks related to unvaccinated daycare workers.

Roughly 48.3 per cent of all COVID-19 patients in hospital only tested positive after they were admitted.

Testing kits pickup locations to be made public as deliveries arrive

The first batch of new rapid test kits will be available sometime this week, but the list of available locations won’t be public until the kits are ready for distribution.

SPSA president Marlo Pritchard said fire stations and chamber of commerce headquarters will be the most likely destinations, but stressed the government wouldn’t force anyone to house them.

“It will be up to each location to determine if they are willing and/or able to participate in the distribution of these kits,” Pritchard said during an update Wednesday morning. “We ask everyone to be patient until that list becomes available on the COVID-19 website.”

When asked if the SPSA would look at expanding the list of locations to city or town halls, Pritchard said it will be up to a participating location to volunteer their services.

“We’ll continue to monitor this to see if we need to identify other locations,” he said. “At this point in time, that’s where we’re starting, but we’ll adapt as we need to.

“At this time, I’m not going to exclude town halls, because that could be an option,” he added. “But, for the first (round) of the rapid test kits, we’ve identified chambers of commerce, and some very specific locations.”

As of Wednesday, the province has sent three ICU patients to Ontario, with three more scheduled for transportation. Pritchard said the government would cover the transportation costs to and from Ontario. He added that three to four patients per day is the maximum they can move.

The province also continues to reach out to other provinces in search of more specialized staff. The SHA’s emergency operations centre (ECO) commander Derek Miller said they have room to create more hospital beds if necessary, but a lack of medical personal to staff those rooms limits their efforts.

“Our limitation is really related to those highly-skilled, trained staff who are needed to in order to actually deliver services in those spaces,” Miller said. “The triggering of the out of province transfers is really an reflection of how we have reached a level where the care delivered in our ICUs is being impacted and that’s a reflection of the nurse to patient ratio…. Really, this all comes down to the staff, and our ability to actually have the staff be available to deliver care in those expanded spaces.”