COVID-19: Virus has killed more in Sask. in 2022 than during same period last year, gov't says

·4 min read
Saskatchewan has now recorded more than 1,500 confirmed COVID-19 deaths. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
Saskatchewan has now recorded more than 1,500 confirmed COVID-19 deaths. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

It's a figure you won't find easily on the province's website but it's a grim milestone of the COVID-19 pandemic — Saskatchewan has now recorded 1,507 confirmed deaths due to COVID-19.

The province's latest monthly epidemiology report also shows Saskatchewan has continued to record more COVID-19 deaths this year than it did in 2021.

The province reports 552 confirmed COVID-19 deaths between Jan. 1 and Sept. 10 of this year — 88 more deaths than the 464 COVID-19 deaths reported during the same period in 2021.

One expert says the figures should serve as a stark reminder that COVID-19 continues to pose a threat to many in the province.

"In my view COVID-19 is still very much present," said Nazeem Muhajarine, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan.

Lauren Winter Photography
Lauren Winter Photography

He says the deaths this year are the result of letting the Omicron variant run rampant.  While the risk of death is not zero with Omicron it is greatly reduced in comparison with the Delta variant.

However, the transmissibility of Omicron means it was able to spread quickly to many people, meaning more people died as a result of the virus, Muhajarine says.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said the pandemic is something the province, Canada and the world has not encountered in a century.

"Every death is tragic, however it has been noted that rates of severe outcomes from the start of the pandemic cannot easily be compared to the severe outcomes that are being experienced now," the statement read.

Muhajarine believes many people in the province have resumed living their lives as they did before COVID-19, especially during this summer.

He says that although vaccines have provided a measure of protection and helped move Saskatchewan to a better position than it was at the beginning of the pandemic, there is no reason to throw caution to the wind.

"We have to be very deliberate and very thoughtful about how we are going to be managing COVID-19 along with everything else that humans are afflicted with," Muhajarine said.

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The epidemiologist says the way that Saskatchewan has decided to approach COVID-19 since March and the rise of the Omicron variant has helped create a sense of disinterest in the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I think the government moved into a situation to a stance where they're managing the pandemic by telling people there's nothing to see here," Muhajarine said.

In part, he says, the cause is the lack of public communication from the province.

Over the summer the province's top doctor, chief medical health officer Saqib Shahab, and Health Minister Paul Merriman made limited public appearances and have rarely commented on COVID-19.

Shahab has recently begun to make more public appearances, including when the province announced its plan to expand COVID-19 vaccination booster doses to children and after the province said it would provide second booster doses to all adults in Saskatchewan.

The province also moved from daily COVID-19 data reports to weekly and now monthly epidemiology reports.

Alexander Quon/CBC
Alexander Quon/CBC

A lack of information has made it impossible for Saskatchewan residents to follow one of the often repeated lines offered by the province, Muhajarine says.

"All we were told is, you know, manage your risk … do your own individual risk assessment. And then take steps accordingly," the epidemiologist told CBC News.

"But how can we do that when we actually don't have any information? Any data?"

The province says it shifted to monthly reports after a decrease in COVID-19 infections. However, that decrease also corresponded with a shift away from providing PCR COVID-19 tests to the general public and encouraging the public to rely on rapid testing kits.

Since the province only records PCR test reaults, that means there is not a clear picture in the spread of COVID-19 infections in the province.

Shahab has said that the most recent COVID-19 trends could result in the province providing more frequent updates.

LISTEN| Sask. Health Authority doctor says "much higher rate" of mask use necessary right now 

Muhajarine says three outstanding questions remain about the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • How many people who are getting infected with the COVID-19 Omicron variant will develop long COVID symptoms and require medical assistance in the future?

  • What is the likelihood of a more virulent COVID-19 variant emerging?

  • How will we handle COVID-19 as an endemic condition? What is the plan for balancing the threat of COVID-19 with the desire to return to normalcy in our lives and economy?

Muhajarine says he would like to see Canada and Saskatchewan address those questions by releasing action plans on how they will deal with COVID-19 in the future.