Province reaches out to Ontario for help due to COVID-19 hospitalizations

Graphic courtesy HFCM Communicatie, via Wikimedia This is a representation of what the Covid-19 virus would look like under a powerful microscope.

The provincial government is working on an out of province patient plan with Ontario, Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency spokesman Marlo Pritchard said during a COVID technical briefing on Wednesday.

Pritchard’s remarks were part of an update on the province’s progress since announcing the new Provincial Emergency Operations Centre (PEOC) last week.

“Over the weekend a huge amount of planning went into the out of province patient transfer,” Pritchard said. “The Saskatchewan Health Authority, the Ministry of Health have had initial discussions with Ontario on an out-of-province ICU transfer.

“While we continue to maximize our critical care resources in Saskatchewan and keep our patients as close to home as possible it is critical that we have contingency plans in place should the situation change. That is why we really appreciate the willingness of Ontario to engage with us on these discussions, but hopefully we will never have to use them,” he added.

Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone said the ICU situation in the province is being monitored closely. He said the province is approaching the 150 capacity threshold that triggers a triage situation.

“The last thing ICU teams across this province want to see is patients having to leave the province to receive care,” Livingstone said. “But at the same time, we want every Saskatchewan resident to receive the very, very best care that they can, and that will be determined in the next few days as to what is happening with our ICU numbers.”

Pritchard, Livingstone, and Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab among others spoke on Wednesday’s media teleconference.

Pritchard said they’re filled key positions with personnel from the SHA, Ministry of Health, and Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA). He added that section chiefs have started plugging into existing SHA emergency operations to help reduce the overwhelming workload in the SHA and Ministry of Health. That includes streamlining information and reports through the PEOC.

“The Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency is making progress enhancing the provincial operations centre, otherwise known as the PEOC, to be a unified command with the Ministry of Health and the Saskatchewan Health Authority,” Pritchard said.

The number of available Rapid Test Kits have also expanded across the province from a group of pilot schools to all schools. plans to make rapid testing kits available to the general public after the province received roughly 1.9 million kits to distribute.”

“The plan is to unload and distribute these kits over the coming week. We anticipate they will be available at some point next week,” Pritchard said.

A million of these will be for the SHA Test and Protect program which included schools and congregate living facilities. The remaining kits will be distributed to the general public.

“The province of Saskatchewan has made a request to the federal government to supply a million kits a month in order to maintain a supply to the public,” he said,

As of Wednesday morning, 84 per cent of those eligible for COVID-19 vaccines have a first dose and 74 per cent eligible have received both doses.

Pritchard also updated on the development of COVID-19 enforcement in the province.

“We are contracting retired police officers based on their skills that they bring to the table such as investigation and report writing and this will reduce the need for specialized training,” he said.

The COVID-19 Secure Isolation Site is also being re-established.

“The site is specifically for those individuals who willfully fail to comply with isolation orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while contagious. The previous site closed as of July 11, 2021 when the public health order ended. This site is being reintroduced to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the community,” he said.

When asked how any of these efforts make a difference in things such as hospitalizations and vaccination rates, Livingstone offered a blunt assessment.

“With respect to hospitalization or vaccination rates I don’t see the provincial operational centre as having a real impact on that at this time, other than helping us bring in provincial resources and out of province resources to help support response,” he said. “I do believe though, (in) the couple of areas that Marlo did touch on, the point of care testing as well as using SPSA resources or other resources to help ensure contact tracing, will certainly have an impact on slowing the disease down, minimizing some of the contacts that happens and will allow quicker follow up,” Livingstone said.

There were several questions on the status on request from the federal government for support. According to Pritchard, they are exploring a number of options including looking at resourcing through the Emergency Management Compact.

Livingstone said that the most important resource is ICU nurses because the province is running low on them.

The province has not applied for federal aid like personnel.

The Business Response Team was also on the call and answered questions around business proof of vaccinations.

They will provide a regular update on activities with the next phone conference on Friday.