'We have not yet seen the peak of this surge,' Sask. doctors warn of COVID-19 pandemic

·3 min read
Saskatchewan doctors are sounding numerous alarm bells about the province's fight against COVID-19. (Susan Shaw/Twitter - image credit)
Saskatchewan doctors are sounding numerous alarm bells about the province's fight against COVID-19. (Susan Shaw/Twitter - image credit)

Saskatchewan doctors are sounding numerous alarm bells about the province's fight against COVID-19, including an expected increase in hospitalizations and deaths in the coming weeks.

"We have not yet seen the peak of this surge," read one slide presented Thursday night during a virtual Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) town hall attended by physicians.

One of those doctors immediately shared the information with CBC News because "we need the public to know how dire the situation is and how much worse it will get in the very near future."

"This was a devastating, heartbreaking meeting," the physician said, adding that presenters were on the verge of tears.

The slides are typically posted online by the health authority the next day but sometimes later. Thursday's slides — which the SHA posted on its website late Friday morning — catalogued a host of ongoing concerns, including:

  • Low testing numbers in some areas of the province.

  • The aftereffects of people travelling in and out of communities on Easter weekend.

  • An increase in deaths among people aged 39 and younger.

  • "Large" outbreaks at correctional centres and an unnamed mining site.

  • Youth gatherings that break current public health rules.

  • Inconsistent mask use and distancing in nearly all workplace outbreaks.

  • "Vaccine selection anger" at immunization clinics.

More people in Saskatchewan have been hospitalized with COVID-19 in the first three months of 2021 than in the 10 months of the pandemic in 2020.

<cite>(Saskatchewan Health Authority)</cite>
(Saskatchewan Health Authority)

"Increased hospitalizations and deaths will occur [in the] next two to four weeks," according to one slide contained in a presentation by Dr. Johnmark Opondo, a medical health officer with the SHA specializing in communicable diseases.

Intensive-care wards in Regina are already over capacity, with 51 people in ICU across the province as of Thursday, including 35 people in Regina. The province's total ICU capacity is normally 79.

Citing the presence of more transmissible variants of concern — which officials have already acknowledged account for a high proportion of Saskatchewan's new cases — Opondo noted that "if the Regina situation unfolds province-wide, ICUs will be overwhelmed."

Some triaging of ICU patients is already required, according to another slide.

<cite>(Government of Saskatchewan)</cite>
(Government of Saskatchewan)

Opondo's presentation also underscored the need for stronger actions to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan.

One slide showed how, one month after restrictions were tightened in Regina, ICU cases continue to remain high.

"We need to strengthen and use every layer of protection," according to Opondo.

<cite>(Saskatchewan Health Authority)</cite>
(Saskatchewan Health Authority)

Thursday's virtual town hall occurred just hours after the Saskatchewan government announced it would soon allow visitors back into the province's care homes, albeit under certain conditions, such as needing at least 90 per cent of care home residents to be fully vaccinated.

One slide shown during the town hall indicated that the vast majority of COVID-19 transmissions in Saskatchewan are occurring in people's homes.

"This is where we're hearing people are letting down their guard," Health Minister Paul Merriman said on Friday.

Merriman was asked about allowing people back into care homes without any requirement for visitors to be fully vaccinated, especially in light of that transmission finding as well as the government's strong recommendation against any non-essential travel in any part of the province.

"Everybody has to make their own personal risk assessment of what they're doing," Merriman said.