Regina– Saskatchewan, along with its neighbours, Manitoba and North Dakota, have been showing exponential growth in their 7-day average of daily new COVID-19 cases, for the period Oct. 1 to Nov. 14. Saskatchewan’s 7-day average case count doubled from 15 to 30 in five days by Oct. 15, doubled again from 30 to 60 in 14 days as of Oct. 29, and doubled a third time 12 days later to an average of 120 cases per day on Nov. 10. The numbers closely mirror that of Manitoba, but are roughly 17 to 18 days behind our eastern neighbour’s curve.
Asked about this, Premier Scott Moe said on Nov. 17, “We feel we're moving forward with a number of changes here today. And it's our true hope that these will not only plateau the numbers, here in Saskatchewan, but make a difference and start to bend that curve down.”
Those changes her referred to included restrictions on private gathering sizes in the home and a provincial mask mandate, announced that day.
Moe spoke of “some very active discussions that need to occur” between the government’s business response team (BRT), public health, athletics, recreation, restaurants, bars, casinos, and bingo halls, for example. Worship services are also included in discussions to make those activities in the community safer. “And so I would ask it, if you're involved in those industries, or those community activities, think about some suggestions you may have as to how we can operate safer and call the BRT and suggest those. It's not saying that they will be incorporated. The numbers over the course of the next number of days are going to determine some of the decisions and ultimately, Dr. Shahab will provide his advice on them. But if you have suggestions on, for example, not using dressing rooms in any way, any advice you have will be appreciated.”
Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said of exponential growth in cases, “I think that is actually exactly the concern. And if you look at our effective reproductive number, and I'll be showing that on Thursday, it is around three to four. So each case is generating not just five to eight contacts, but three to four additional cases.
“And the reason for that is, obviously in the household setting, sometimes it is very difficult to not have a second transmission. But in the household setting, we should we all have a plan. If I get a fever and headache, I'm going to isolate and stay away from everyone else in the house, get tested, but then do my best to make sure that transmission doesn't happen in the house.
“So, very difficult to do, but with quick testing, and isolation, you can reduce household transmission rates from 50 per cent of the household to less than 10 per cent. So again, that's one area. But then of course, all your close contacts should be isolating as well, so that if they become a case, they have zero contact. So that's a very effective strategy for households and close contacts, that all close contacts of a case isolate right away. And that's how you break the general transmission.
Shahab spoke of the importance of reducing the number of contacts we have on a day to day basis as a way of combatting this growth.
“I will be presenting updated epidemiology and modelling on Thursday, but again, modelling builds on the data,” Shahab said.
“The projections change on a day to day basis. If we increase our number of contacts, the modelling trends upwards. If we decrease the number of contacts and decrease the number of cases that are being generated, the modelling trends downward. So, the modelling is very dynamic, and we’ll be speaking to that on Thursday, but it’s very sensitive to our individual actions on a day-by-day basis.”
Moe added, “I would just say we have six weeks until the Christmas holiday season and this is a time for all of us to give some thought as to what that holiday season is going to look like. We have some work to do, changing how many people we come in contact each and every day, reducing that number for us to have a successful Christmas season where we're able to see family and friends, at least in some level.”
New Democratic Party Leader Ryan Meili, when asked about exponential growth, said it was a “really worrisome trajectory.”
Speaking from Saskatoon on Nov. 16, Meili also said it made him mad that such information hasn’t been shared by the province, emphasizing a point he’s frequently made about the lack of recent modelling figures from the government.
Meili said, “They know more than even you're able to figure out by looking backwards. They're able to look at what the cases are doing, what those interactions are that are happening, and what we're looking at, in the weeks ahead. They know where this transmission is happening, and how it's going to accelerate. And the fact that you're having to figure out those numbers, on your own, is failure number one.
“Failure number two is, to be honest, about exactly what you pointed out, we are growing very, very quickly. And what I said on Friday is, where I would be right now, is talking to Manitoba, talking to North Dakota and Alberta and saying, ‘What do you wish you'd done three weeks ago, when you were, where we are today?’
“Because that's the choices we need to be making, not looking at what they're doing now, after it's too late. We need to be acting before we're in their situation.”
Manitoba has also seen exponential growth in the 7-day average number of deaths, progressing from an average of one death per day on Oct. 8 to two on Oct. 25 to four on Nov. 6 to eight on Nov. 15. On this, Meili said it was “very, very disturbing.”
“We know that there’s that lag between case numbers rising and people getting really sick, ICUs getting overwhelmed and death rates rising. The fact that we lost two people here yesterday (Nov. 15) worries me a lot, because we're starting to see that that part of the 60-80 cases a day, 100 cases a day, showing up. Now that we're pushing 200, or more. Then we're going to start to see that in the next few days.”
Meili said this is why it was so important to act now, instead of waiting two or three weeks from now, when we’re in a situation like Manitoba, or even worse.
Brian Zinchuk, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Estevan Mercury