Triaging in Saskatchewan a 'tragedy of our times': chief medical heath officer

·3 min read

REGINA — Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer says triaging of patients is a "tragedy of our times."

During a briefing Wednesday, Dr. Saqib Shahab said elective and urgent surgeries are being delayed as resources and staff get redeployed to COVID-19 hospital wards.

"We've got a billion-dollar health-care system, one of the best ... in the world that is not able to do what it is designed to do because it's dealing with a vaccine-preventable problem," Shahab said.

"It is a tragedy of our times, that being in a very privileged society, we are facing this dilemma."

Saskatchewan has the highest case rate, and death rate among all provinces, while having the lowest vaccination rate in the country.

Data compiled by Health Canada shows Saskatchewan residents are four times more likely to die from COVID-19 than people in any other province except Alberta.

On Friday, the province's proof of vaccination program begins. The government has committed to more testing in the hope that will help decrease case numbers and serious illness brought on by the virus.

Health Minister Paul Merriman said he has reached out to his counterparts in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario to explore the possibility of sending COVID-19 patients there or using some of their health-care workers. Merriman said Alberta does not have the capacity to help at this time.

Saskatchewan is working with Alberta to get another supply of monoclonal antibody treatments from the federal government, Merriman said. Premier Scott Moe is working with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the request.

Monoclonal antibodies are produced in a lab and can help restore, enhance or mimic the immune system.

"If this helps us get 10 to 20 people out of our hospitalization system, and a few out of our ICU, it’s certainly worth the investment," Merriman said.

The health minister said the Saskatchewan Party government will not bring in additional public health measures other than those already in place: an indoor masking order and requirement to self-isolate after a positive test.

"Public health measures are extremely important, but that's not going to get us to the end of this pandemic. Vaccines are," Merriman said.

"If (people) choose not to be vaccinated and continue down that path, it will be challenging times."

Since Saskatchewan announced the proof of vaccination requirement, vaccine rates have increased about one per cent a week — up from 0.5 per cent a week in previous months, said Shahab. About 72 per cent of Saskatchewan's eligible population is fully vaccinated.

Shahab said at that rate, cases will plateau, and it will take a long time for the fourth wave to ebb.

"We will not only not have Thanksgiving at this rate, we will likely not have Christmas or New Year's at this rate. It will be a fall and winter of misery," Shahab said.

Saskatchewan reported 394 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday. Three more people died from the infection.

With nearly 300 people in hospital with the virus, overall COVID-19 hospitalizations and admissions to intensive care units has nearly tripled over August.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority is increasing its bed capacity, but says teams are facing pressure to maintain bed space.

"We’re getting to a point where, unless we see an increase in vaccination rates and compliance with current public health measures that result in a significant decline in case numbers over the next two to four weeks, it is leading us to an untenable situation right now," Shahab said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2021.

Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

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