COVID Cases Surge Across the Prairies

·7 min read

"We're seeing record spikes this morning across the country. So I'm imploring the premiers and our mayors to please do the right thing — act now to protect public health," Prime Minister Trudeau said during his regular morning briefing with public health officials on November 10.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said it was "extremely unhelpful" for the prime minister to frame the issue as a "false choice" between protecting Canadians' health and protecting the economy. “It is extremely unhelpful for the Prime Minister to be questioning the response of the provinces and creating a false choice between protecting the economy and jobs, and protecting against the spread of COVID-19.” He expressed confidence that Saskatchewan can show success on both priorities.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister took the step of announcing widespread shutdowns, including a ban on social gatherings of any kind which took effect Thursday November 12th, B.C. Premier John Horgan is urged his residents to "get with the program" and cut back on social interactions, warning that a return to tighter restrictions is possible if the province's COVID-19 case numbers don't come down. "This is going to be challenging," Horgan stated. "No one should be under any illusion based on what's happening in British Columbia, in Canada, in North America — around the world — that we're going to be out of this anytime soon."

Last week, a group of physicians in Alberta sent a letter to Premier Jason Kenney, his health minister and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, calling for swift moves to slow the spread of the virus. "If the rate of COVID-19 spread continues, the consequences to the people of Alberta will be catastrophic," the letter said. "The province should consider a two-week, short, sharp lockdown or 'circuit breaker' to drop the effective reproductive number and allow contact tracing to catch up." Similarly, an ever-growing number of doctors in Saskatchewan have signed an open letter to Premier Moe. “In the past 30 days, the number of active COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan has increased 700% to 1289. Our hospitals are full, in part due to a 517% increase in COVID-19 admissions. Saskatoon ICU’s are at 130% capacity and are diverting patients. It is becoming increasingly clear to us, physicians from across Saskatchewan, that we are losing the battle against this virus. If more is not done to change our course we are confident that winter will bring overflowing hospitals, canceled surgeries, overwhelmed healthcare providers, and needless deaths,” the letter reads. It continues, “We appreciate that, in battling this epidemic, there are no easy solutions…. Both action and inaction will be criticized…. Making decisions, even when difficult, is the hallmark of strong leadership. The lives and livelihoods of Saskatchewan people depend upon you.”

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer stated Friday November 13th that new modelling suggests the country is on track to record 10,000 new cases per day by early December. "Right now, it's not looking good. People have to like, really take everything seriously," Tam said, singling out the Prairie provinces as a region that has a lot of work to do. Dr. Michael Gardam, an infectious diseases physician at Toronto's Women's College Hospital said in an interview on CBC Radio’s, The House, "I think it's time for us to have a little bit of a reality check and perhaps quit patting ourselves on the back here. We haven't done as great a job as I think we think we have."

The intensive care units of Saskatoon hospitals as of November 14th are so full that officials have stopped accepting most out-of-town patients. Patients with major trauma, strokes and other emergencies will still be admitted to Saskatoon ICUs, but those with severe pneumonia, drug overdoses and other afflictions will be diverted to other cities, Dr. Susan Shaw SHA Chief Medical Officer said. So far, four patients have been sent from Saskatoon to available ICU beds in other cities. Dr. Anne Huang, a former Saskatchewan deputy medical health officer, told the CBC that the 308 cases reported Saturday the 14th is very concerning. She predicts that in the weeks to come, the case trajectory is going to stay on the same upwards path. The new restrictions, she went on, will reduce some transmission, but she said that with the widespread community transmission that’s already happened, we may not see any impact from the mandatory masking that was implemented for Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert. In her opinion the province should have implemented a province-wide mandatory masking order already.

“Today’s record high case numbers are a reminder that the spread of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan is higher now than it has even been throughout Saskatchewan including urban, rural, Northern and First Nations areas and that we all need to redouble our efforts to protect ourselves and others,” said chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab in a press release. “Over the past nine months, we have seen periods of extremely low transmission and periods of unacceptably high transmission here in Saskatchewan,” Saskatchewan Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said Friday. “This has not been determined by the virus; it has been determined by the actions of individuals making conscious decisions to follow best public health practices.” We all need to look at what we are doing on an everyday basis Dr. Shahab said. We need to return to the practices we all adopted in the spring. One person per household did the shopping and they got what they needed and returned home. We need to do this again, he urged. Compliance is up to each individual. The choice to adhere to the safety measures, to take responsibility for their part in reducing the spread requires the commitment of the people of the province. Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman said Friday that the reality we will face is totally dependent on what happens, on the actions of the public. The case numbers, the numbers in hospital and in ICU are all heading in the wrong direction and if those numbers continue to climb at the rate they have been, the availability of the health system to care for those with other health issues diminishes.

“Now is the time for all residents, businesses and organizations to get back to basics. Re-commit to proven public health measures and return to the standards shown to work in the Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan.” Perhaps a more blunt message as given by Premier Horgan to residents of British Columbia would have more impact here in Saskatchewan than the consistent message that comes from government representatives here that ‘the majority of people are wearing masks and abiding by public health orders’ and that it is just a small number that aren’t. Premier Horgan warned on November 10th, “If we want to avoid the more onerous restrictions that are being imposed in other jurisdictions, we need to take advantage of the opportunities to find safe ways to operate. It’s gonna require people to get with the program, and there’s a whole bunch of people who are not abiding by the minimalist rules we had in place.” It is obvious by the upward trends that not enough people are adhering to the minimalist rules we have in Saskatchewan either. It is time to get serious about putting the brakes on this virus. At the beginning of November, the media present at the regular provincial update, pronounced that we were at the point Manitoba had been two weeks prior. How prophetic that pronouncement was as here we sit with our first daily update of over 300 new cases. To see where we are heading, look east.

Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Wakaw Recorder