Saskatchewan's ICUs are currently seeing a declining number patients infected with COVID-19, but a further reduction in overall acute care and ICU patients is needed for the province's health-care system to return to its pre-fourth-wave state, the Saskatchewan Health Authority says.
"Everyone wants to see the case numbers continue to go down and then the associated hospitalizations to do the same," said Derek Miller, the SHA's head of emergency operations, during a COVID-19 media briefing on Tuesday.
"[That] would allow us to fully resume services and get back to a sense of normal."
We're not quite there yet, Miller said.
As of Tuesday morning, there were a total of 80 ICU patients, including 34 with COVID-19, in Saskatchewan.
Excluding the seven former Saskatchewan ICU patients who remain under intensive care in Ontario, Tuesday's in-province ICU total is about on par with the baseline of 79 ICU beds the province can normally muster without redeploying hundreds of medical staff to ICUs and other COVID-19 efforts, as the SHA has had to do during the fourth wave.
Those redeployments have contributed to an ongoing backlog of delayed health services, including 27,000 non-emergency surgeries from March 2020 to the end of October 2021, though the SHA worked to reduce that backlog during the summer before the fourth wave hit.
In recent weeks, the SHA has been able to jump-start many delayed services in regional centres such as Prince Albert, Lloydminster, Melfort, Nipawin, Humboldt, Kindersley and Rosetown as the number of ICU patients in rural hospitals has decreased.
But for surgeries, that jump-start effort is proceeding more slowly in Regina and Saskatoon "due to the need to maintain care for hospitalized and ICU patients," according to a service resumption update issued shortly before the briefing.
"Regina has had longstanding OR nurse vacancies and therefore will not be able to resume as quickly as other sites."
Miller said the reduction in occupied ICU beds is mostly happening in regional hospitals.
"We are experiencing high COVID demand in our urban centres, in Saskatoon and Regina," he said. "We really need to see those come down with the rest of it in order to start moving us toward normal."
"We're not out of the woods yet in terms of our fourth wave," echoed chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab. "It'll take a longer duration for our acute care and hospital numbers to go down."
Read the province's full service resumption update below or click here.
Keep masking up indoors until March 2022: Shahab
Saskatchewan reported 69 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the lowest daily increase in many weeks.
The province's current health restrictions, including the need to mask up in indoor public spaces and the proof-of-vaccination program, are set to expire on Nov. 30.
Shahab cautioned two weeks ago that those restrictions should remain in place into the winter season in order to prevent an increase in COVID-19 cases.
Soon after, Premier Scott Moe said the restrictions would likely be extended and remain in place until at least the end of the year.
Physicians with the SHA then said lifting the restrictions before spring 2022 would cause another surge that would challenge the health system yet again.
On Tuesday, Dr. Shahab was asked what recommendations he has recently made to Moe's government on the immediate future of restrictions.
Shahab declined to speak to any specific recommendations to the government, saying those are confidential.
Shahab said the proof-of-vaccination program remains a "powerful" tool that's helped reduce transmission at events. He said proof should be provided at venues where it's not required under the current public health order.
"It can be reviewed in January," Shahab said of the program, "but certainly we have seen how it allows us to do so many things that otherwise would become difficult."
Shahab also recommended that the public continue wearing masks indoors "until March at least."