REGINA — Saskatchewan has released modelling that suggests a combination of winter weather with indoor socializing and waning immunity could lead to the province's worst wave of COVID-19.
Chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, says hospitalizations and cases have plateaued at a high level.
He says now is the time to increase vaccination rates, including booster shots for those 65 and older, who are starting to show decreasing immunity.
"They are extremely effective at reducing hospitalizations, and we have seen, tragically, over the fourth wave that COVID will find the unvaccinated," Shahab said Thursday.
"It will circulate and find pockets of unvaccinated communities and individuals. It will not skip your town or your sports team or your family gatherings."
Shahab said Saskatchewan could be on track to return its health-care system to sustainable levels by mid-January and avoid a fifth wave of the pandemic.
"Things have changed for the better," said Shahab, who added that daily hospital and ICU admissions have decreased by 41 per cent from two weeks ago.
However, he said, residents need to continue to reduce their contacts as the Christmas holidays approach.
"I really encourage everyone to be fully vaccinated. If not, get a test or stay home from that family gathering."
The modelling shows that if people's immunity against COVID-19 wanes, and more people socialize indoors, another wave of infections could result in nearly 150 patients in intensive care.
Despite the province's fourth wave trending downward, Saskatchewan continues to have the highest rate of hospitalizations per capita in Western Canada, Shahab said.
On Thursday, the province reported 95 new cases for a total of 1,100 active cases. Four more people died.
There were 49 patients in intensive care, including 11 who were receiving out-of-province care.
Health Minister Paul Merriman said the Saskatchewan Party government is not considering an extension of its proof of vaccination or negative test policy to more venues, including places of worship, despite them being busier over the holidays.
"Outbreaks have been mainly in the household," said Merriman, who acknowledged that vaccinations will need to increase in the coming weeks to prevent a rise in cases.
He's hoping the arrival of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson injection will increase Saskatchewan's vaccination uptake. Just over 80 per cent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated — one of the lowest in the country.
Merriman was unable to immediately provide how many doses of J&J have been administered out of the 2,500 that Ottawa sent to the province. He said Saskatchewane will be ordering 7,500 more doses.
Shahab said he's hopeful that over the Christmas holidays, much like Thanksgiving showed, people will remain diligent.
"We did see that people did change their behaviours and that made a tremendous impact. We didn't see any resurgence over Thanksgiving," he said.
"We did see a few clusters over Halloween … mostly younger people. But we hope that (Christmas) is a time for (just) close family and friends."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2021.
Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press