With COVID-19 cases surging in both Manitoba and Alberta, and our own case counts climbing Dr. Shahab held a rare morning press conference today Friday November 13th. Manitoba has gone into lock down and the pressure is on Premier Kenney to do the same. Over 200 Saskatchewan doctors signed a letter to Premier Moe advising him to take action now before we find ourselves in the same place that the province of Manitoba has found itself in. The doctor’s called for province wide mandatory masking, and the closure of bars and nightclubs. The Saskatchewan Teachers Federation, this morning added their support to the calls from these doctors. Health Minister Paul Merriman joined Dr. Shahab in the Radio Room while the SHA’s Scott Livingstone and Dr Susan Shaw joined over the telephone.
The expansion of mandatory masking in indoor public spaces and a curfew on alcohol sales in licensed establishments will be in effect as of Monday, November 16 for 28 days, then subject to review by Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer and will apply to all communities over 5000 residents. As well due to their proximity to the urban centres and high rate of retail, workplace and service integration, surrounding towns will be included even if their independent populations are less than 5,000 residents. The list of the 59 communities and what is deemed an indoor public space is at www.saskatchewan.ca/masks. Those 59 communities are: Aberdeen, Albertville, Allan, Asquith, Balgonie, Battleford, Beaver Creek, Belle Plaine, Bradwell, Cedar Villa Estates, Clavet, Colonsay, RM of Corman Park No. 344, Craven, Dalmeny, Davin, Delisle, Dundurn, Edenwold, Estevan, Furdale, Grand Coulee, Gray, Humboldt, Kindersley, Kronau, Langham, Lloydminster, Lumsden, Lumsden Beach, MacDowall, Martinsville, Meacham, Meadow Lake, Meath Park, Melfort, Melville, Moose Jaw, Neuhorst, Nipawin, North Battleford, Pense, Pilot Butte, Prince Albert, Regina, Regina Beach, Riceton, Saskatoon, Shields, St. Louis, Swift Current, Thode, Vanscoy, Warman, Weirdale, Weyburn, Whitecap, White City, and Yorkton. While COVID-19 has shown that it will take advantage of any opportunity, the fundamentals of personal protective measures, state the government, and the Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan guidelines based on those measures have been demonstrated to work in preventing transmission. Every Saskatchewan resident has a personal responsibility to make public spaces safe from COVID-19 transmission, so that essential services including health care and school, can continue. “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. “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.” All residents are required to abide by the basics of COVID-19 prevention: maintain physical distancing and wear a mask when you are outside the home; wash your hands frequently; stay home if you are sick. A significant number of cases in the province are as a result of people going to school, work and participating in activities when they have been symptomatic. The other western provinces have already shutdown indoor sports, Dr. Shahab stated that they will be looking at the guidelines and the transmission patterns to see if they need to do the same. All businesses and organizations must review the Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan for their respective sector guidelines and make any required changes in order to abide by them completely. These guidelines are enforceable under the public health order. In the event that the public health order applies a more stringent standard (ie. masking), the public health order supersedes the guidance document. “New measures announced this week and those to be considered in the weeks to come will still be based on the fundamentals of physical distancing, staying home when you are sick and masking to protect yourself and others,” Health Minister Paul Merriman said. “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.”
There have not been any new ‘superspreader’ events that have fed the growth in positive cases, Dr Shahab confirmed, but transmission is now in every activity even where precautions are being taken. We all need to look at what we are doing on an every day 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. When we all take these simple measures we can.
“No one wants to get back to a lockdown….A slowdown is how we will avoid another lock down,” but the measures announced don’t really look much like a slowdown. Minister Merriman stated that this measured response is appropriate because more restrictions would still require people to comply. 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. Dr. Shahab described it as a proportional response that we must give a real solid try before considering more restrictive measures. It is not the responsibility of any one other than the individual Merriman said. The government still believes that the people of Saskatchewan will comply even though as members of the media pointed out, people aren’t complying. When pressed about why stronger consequences for non-compliance aren’t coming, Merriman did respond, “They may.”
SHA expects to continue to see an uptick in hospitalizations and ICU admission. Yesterday, the Emergency Operations Centre was reactivated to coordinate efforts in the healthcare system. More people have been hired but the SHA will also need to re-deploy personelle. Periodic slowdowns in services will happen, but the SHA is not planning a repeat of the shutdowns experienced in the spring. Dr. Shaw worries however, about the overall commitment of the general public to the safety measures in place. The field hospitals are sitting ready, but no one wants to go have to take that step.
The reality facing us is totally dependent on what happens, on the actions of the public. The health system only has so many health care professionals, there will still be traumas and heart attacks and those ‘normal’ emergencies that need to be cared for. The more COVID-19 patients that enter the system, the more professionals that need to be pulled from the ‘other’ side of the spectrum. This is why even though there are “only” 53 people in hospital, the system is at the tipping point. 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.
Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Wakaw Recorder