Healthcare system ramping up in Regina as variants spread

Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone. (Brandon Harder/Regina Leader-Post)

The variants of concern (VoC) of COVID-19 are beginning to cause considerable stress to the healthcare system in Regina and area, the province said Thursday.

“It certainly has been a challenging year and these past few weeks we are being tested in a way that we have not been tested through the pandemic. We are all tired, Saskatchewan residents and health care workers alike. Challenging us even more is the virus through the variants of concern, it is getting smarter and faster it is doing its very best to work on all of our defences and testing our system in a way that we have not yet seen,” SHA CEO Scott Livingstone said.

Livingstone explained that there are 60 patients in hospital in Regina with 39 having tested positive for VoC including 15 of the 16 patients in ICU.

“We are seeing rising cases that are placing a severe strain on our capacity in our healthcare system both to deliver COVID and non COVID care. We expect admissions to continue to rise across the province and in Regina where we are already seeing it, we are in the middle of this battle,” he added.

The VoC also affects younger people as only one individual admitted of 35 in ICU over the last month was over the age of 70 and half of the last 10 ICU admissions were for those under 40.

“Our teams in Regina are tackling this both with our defensive and offensive strategies and we continue to care for both COVID and non COVID patients. We have opened an additional 12 ICU beds for patients in Regina to care for that increasing demand of COVID patients coming through our door,” Livingstone said.

Livingstone explained that all health care services have not gone away because of the COVID-19 surge.

“We are working to move a number of patients who no longer require specialized tertiary care to our rural hospitals where their care needs can be met to help meet our demands in our tertiary centres,” he added.

The demands on the system are also seen with longer wait times for testing. The SHA is expanding hours for the COVID-19 testing drive thru site in Regina.

“I know that in the days to come you will see a further expansion of services, we are going to a 50 per cent increase or a 12 hour a day operation, early next week we will be up to 16 hours a day which is a 100 per cent increase in capacity. Looking at a projected peak of around 1,900 tests a day in Regina’s drive thru alone,” Livingstone said.

Shahab reminded people to keep their number of contacts as low as possible even with expanded testing capabilities.

“As soon as you get tested we have to ask for a list of contacts we should have on hand so that the contacts can be contacted right away to isolate and I think that is going to be a key factor. Reducing our interactions with other people outside of our household to as little as possible, especially in Regina indoor setting and getting tested promptly so that close contacts can be followed up,” Shahab said.

Shahab explained that most jurisdictions in Canada are seeing a resurgence this spring entirely driven by variants of concern.

“The same is the case in many parts of the US and of Europe, so we are not unique by any means in this situation,” he said.

Shahab said that the new measures put into effect in Regina and area were too new to see any impacts.

“In fact, because we have more testing happening we expect case numbers to rise over the next week or two before they stabilize and hopefully start coming down. We also need to recognize that while the bulk of the new cases in Regina are variants of concern, we are seeing increase in other part of the province as well especially in the south parts of the province, Weyburn and area, Moose Jaw and area, — this just reinforces that while we have significant measures in Regina right now all of us all throughout Saskatchewan should continue to observe everything we have been doing,” Shahab said.

He explained that there have already been cases in the southern part of the province where allowed household bubbles of less than ten gathered, shared food, and almost all got sick.

“Even though household bubbles are allowed we have to be very careful. Outdoors is better than indoors, even indoors if you can maintain physical distance be very careful sharing food even within your household bubble and that is a message for everyone.”

Livingstone explained that there has always been a plan in place if there was a case upsurge. He added that staff is cross trained and can be used for many things such as vaccination, testing or backfilling in cases of outbreaks.

The drive thru vaccination site in Regina has also been popular, and the SHA is expanding to other sites. From March 14 to 22, over 16,000 shots were given at the site.

“The feedback we have received to date has been overwhelmingly positive although we know we are not perfect and we hope to make improvements as we restart the Regina drive thru as vaccines become available and we have other drive thru in place soon,” Livingstone said.

The success has garnered attention from other healthcare systems in Canada because the speed and the work of the healthcare workers.

Outside of already-announced drive-thru vaccine sites for Moose Jaw, Yorkton and Saskatoon, the province is planning other expansions in seasonal locations. Those are planned for early April, and depending on vaccine supply, could open before the end of March.

Livingstone thanked the workers for making the entire ramp up across the system run so smoothly and reminded people that the finish line is in sight.

“Help us make the final push across the goal line and get back to the life that we actually all miss dearly,” he said.