Nine new COVID-19 cases in Prince Albert

Doctors, business associations implore residents to abide by health orders

SHA chief medical health officer Dr. Susan Shaw. SHA photo.

Saskatchewan saw a short reprieve from triple-digit COVID-19 cases Friday, but the situation continues to worsen as hospitalizations continue to climb.

There were 81 new cases identified Friday, the lowest mark in a week. Even so, hospitalizations hit an all-time high, with 53 COVID-19 patients recovering in hospital. The number of patients in intensive care has grown from 13 to 15.

The province’s chief medical health officer has said that Saskatchewan should be concerned when new COVID-19 cases average five per 100,000 per day, which evens out to about 60 new cases.

That means that although the 81 new cases are an improvement over new case spikes earlier in the week, it’s still higher than provincial officials would like to see;

Of the new cases, the Regina zone led with 10, followed by the North East with 11, North Central with 10 and Saskatoon with five.

Of the 10 North Central cases, nine were in the City of Prince Albert (the North Central 2 subzone). That brings the city’s active case count to 70.

The North Central zone also has five COVID-19 patients receiving inpatient hospital care and three in intensive care.

Thursday, 1,706 COVID-19 tests were processed in Saskatchewan, a smaller amount than seen in the past few days.

ICU doctor implores residents to wear a mask

During a press conference Friday, a Saskatoon-based ICU and emergency room doctor passionately pled with Saskatchewan residents to take the small step of wearing a non-medical mask in public indoor places to slow the spread of the virus.

Dr. Susan Shaw is the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s chief medical health officer. However, she’s also a practicing physician. That’s the perspective she spoke from Friday.

“I can see what this virus is doing on our front lines,” Shaw said.

“I see how tired staff are with having to manage the stress of this virus, but they still come to work. I sit with the families of those who have been admitted to our intensive care units with COVID-19. They sit beside their loved ones, all of them suffering, some of them dying and they will never truly be face to face with each other ever again because of the need to wear masks. They do so because it’s the right thing to do.

“That, to me, makes putting on a mask when you go to the grocery store seem not so hard.”

Shaw said she wrote an editorial in March vowing that the health care system would be ready when it’s called upon. While she remains committed to that promise, she’s worried the health system will be overwhelmed.

She worries when contact tracers report verbal abuse from members of the public. 

She said she’s heard that people are not following public health orders because of COVID-fatigue. That they’re tired of making sacrifices to fight the virus.

“I’m tired too. Our physicians and staff are also tired, and yet we come to work to make sure that the system is there for you when you need it, whether it’s due to a heart attack, a stroke, a diagnosis of cancer or COVID,” she said.

“These days we come to work and see more and more patients that are suffering with COVID.”

Shaw said she knows that means in days ahead, she will have to tell more families that their loved one isn’t going to make it. That, she said, is much harder than the simple steps the public is being asked to take. 

“When people come to the hospital, they often beg us to do everything we can. Now we are begging in return. Do everything you can. Limit your bubble as small as possible. Wash your hands regularly. Copy with all public health orders and please put on a mask. Putting on a mask is not a political statement, it’s a scientific one and it’s a statement of love,” she said.

“If you’re not willing to do it when it’s recommended, then I invite you to traded places or join me for those conversations with family members whose loved ones are still sick and are at risk and are dying.

I assure you that conversation is much more difficult than putting on a mask.”

Health organizations call for additional COVID-19 measures

Shaw is far from the only doctor concerned by the increasing COVID-19 case count in Saskatchewan.

Friday morning, representatives from a number of organizations representing doctors, surgeons, nurses and pharmacists co-signed op-ed applauding measures taken by the provincial government to increase the mask mandate Friday and calling for more actions to slow the spread of the virus.

The op-ed called for mandatory masking across Saskatchewan, closing bars and nightclubs and further expanding contact tracing and testing.

“We do not propose these measures lightly, but if the province does not pursue them, things will get worse, possibly a lot worse,” said the op-ed, written by Saskatchewan Medical Association president Dr. Barb Konstantynowicz. The op-ed follows another open letter signed by more than 400 doctors across the province.

Questioned by reporters as to why they weren’t following through with more stringent measures in line with what has been recommended by the province’s doctors, both Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab and Health Minister Paul Merriman thanked the doctors for their advocacy work, but defended their measure, which only mandates masks indoors in communities of 5,000 or more, leaving about 35 per cent of the province without any mask mandate.

“I value feedback and comments from my colleagues,” Shahab said.

“I’ve been clear since summer to wear a mask from indoor places. If you live in a small community, COVID is not not going to impact you.”

Shahab said that recommendation to wear a mask indoors applies to all communities, and the masking orders only seek to level the playing field in larger centres where businesses were taking a piecemeal approach.

“I want to thank all of the doctors for what they’re doing and I hear it from Dr. Shaw’s voice,” Merriman said.

“For hundreds of doctors to write a letter — it’s very important they did that. They’ve always been there for you and now they need us to be there for them. That’s a very powerful statement, that we need to be able to help out our health care system.”

Business organizations call for compliance with public health orders

It wasn’t just medical professionals calling for residents to do more.  

An open letter signed by 34 business organizations, including chambers of commerce, advocacy organizations and economic development groups is also asking residents to follow restrictions and guidelines set out by public health experts.

They praised Friday’s approach to target hotspots such as bars and gyms and the new mandatory mask requirements.

“While we acknowledge some businesses will be significantly affected by today’s announcement, returning to a widespread, large-scale lockdown would be catastrophic to Saskatchewan jobs, Saskatchewan families, and on the immediate survivability of Saskatchewan businesses — even with new and extensive government intervention,” the letter said.

“The health, societal, and economic harm would have lasting, irreversible impacts.

 “We are calling on all Saskatchewan residents to follow the restrictions and guidelines set out by our public health experts. Do your part and be a good neighbour. We also support the proactive enforcement of these critical measures.

 “Last but not least: As we enter the holiday season, we ask Saskatchewan residents to support local businesses wherever possible. Many of these businesses are barely hanging on, and every little bit counts.

 “And above all else: Be kind to each other. We are all in this together.”

SHA to stop issuing exposure notices

Starting today, the SHA will not be issuing COVID-19 exposure alerts that only warn residents to self-monitor if they’ve been at a business where a potential exposure to the virus is identified. Alerts will only be issues when self-isolation is required immediately.

“COVID-19 is everywhere in Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan’s medical health officers are asking all Saskatchewan residents to self-monitor for COVID symptoms, regardless of where you live in this province,” the SHA said in a statement.

“In addition, every resident is asked to ensure you and your family members stay up to date and are following all the guidelines and public health orders.”

The new alerts, which urge residents to self-isolate, will only be issued at the discretion of the local medical health officer and when all contacts cannot be notified within 48 hours, there is an increased risk to the public and the direction is needed to immediately self-isolate. The SHA said they will attempt to notify businesses and locations in advance if they will be named in an exposure announcement, but added that it won’t always be possible.