Indoor gathering restrictions needed to curb COVID-fueled health crisis: Sask. Health Authority doctor

·3 min read
Nurses caring for COVID patients in an ICU. (Mario Tama/Getty Images - image credit)
Nurses caring for COVID patients in an ICU. (Mario Tama/Getty Images - image credit)

Saskatchewan is in its worst public health crisis since the pandemic started and must limit indoor gathering sizes to combat the fourth wave, according to a physician overseeing rural health.

Dr. Kevin Wasko, physician executive for integrated rural health with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), told CBC Saskatchewan's Morning Edition that the current public health order mandating masking indoors isn't enough to curb the province's deadly fourth wave.

He said Saskatchewan's vaccination rate, which is the lowest among Canadian provinces, and looming cooler weather driving people indoors will add fuel to the COVID surge ravaging the province.

"We will have more cases, we will have overrun hospitals. We will have people dying from COVID," Wasko said.

"I think we need limitations on gathering sizes, particularly indoor gatherings."

LISTEN | Dr. Kevin Wasko spoke with Stefani Langenegger on the Morning Edition

Wasko said a vaccination rate of 85 per cent for the total population, not just those 12 and older, will be needed to slow the pandemic. Currently, about 72 per cent of Saskatchewan residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated.

Higher vaccination levels can be achieved by educating those fearful or uninformed about the vaccine, Wasko said.

"But the people with fixed ideas — this is a conspiracy of government control — and those who are just so angry about the measures that have been put in place, we're not going to move them."

This past week Saskatchewan posted record COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU admissions.

On Monday, 289 people were in hospital with the virus, breaking the previous day's record. Of those people in hospital, 63 were in intensive care, another provincial record.

Rate of death from COVID-19, by province, since Aug. 1

In response to pressure on the health-care system, the province has slowed or paused non-critical and elective surgeries.

Last week it also indefinitely suspended its organ donation program to cope with COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Such measures will reverberate through the province's health-care system and in people's daily lives well after the current COVID-19 wave is flattened, Wasko said.

"I think people are realizing now that people are dying because of COVID. People aren't getting the care they need for other conditions because the system can't provide for that," Wasko said.

"As you delay those types of care services, it means people get sick months from now with chronic illnesses that aren't controlled."

Wasko is part of a growing community of physicians calling for the province to implement stronger public health measures in response to the fourth wave, which is being driven by the more transmissible delta variant.

Dr. Nnambi Ndubuka, medical health officer for the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority (NITHA), which represents 55,000 people on 33 different northern reserves, also wants a provincial public order limiting gathering sizes.

"Looking at restricting the size of gatherings, weddings, funerals or community events," Ndubuka said.

"Also looking at travel advisories to help to mitigate this fourth wave that is really very, very impactful right now at community level."

The Saskatchewan Health Authority did not respond to requests for an interview.

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