Sask. extends public health orders, residents told to 'trust themselves' when it comes to gatherings

·3 min read
Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab doubled down on his warning that residents should avoid gatherings outside of school and work. Premier Scott Moe said people should
Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab doubled down on his warning that residents should avoid gatherings outside of school and work. Premier Scott Moe said people should

Saskatchewan's public health orders for mandatory indoor masking, mandatory self-isolation and proof of vaccination or negative test requirements are being extended until the end of February, but no new measures are being introduced.

Saskatchewan has seen record-high COVID-19 case numbers, and is the only province that has not implemented new indoor gathering limits or capacity restrictions.

Premier Scott Moe said hospitalizations in the province are stable and ICU admissions are on the decline, but that his government is closely monitoring the numbers.

Moe said lockdown policies are "an infringement on the rights and freedoms we value" and that he doesn't see evidence that those kinds of restrictions are effective.

"What we're seeing in many cases even in jurisdictions with those types of restrictions, and many more, [they] really aren't limiting the spread of Omicron," Moe said.

WATCH | Sask. extending mandatory masking, proof of vaccination to Feb. 28

Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab doubled down on his warning from last week that residents should stop gathering outside of work and school to blunt the fifth wave. Moe told reporters Wednesday that people should use their best judgment and "trust themselves" on whether to gather.

The province is also recommending that residents "experiencing mild cold-like symptoms including cough, sore throat, sneezing without fever" should not get a PCR test due to pressure on the health authority's testing capacity.

Instead, the province said, people should stay home, use rapid antigen testing and self-isolate.

NDP Leader Ryan Meili slammed Moe for not implementing additional measures.

"We're hurtling toward a health-care disaster and Scott Moe, the person who had the power, had the modelling, had the public health advice, had the information to stop it, has chosen repeatedly to do nothing," Meili said on Wednesday.

Expert says 'we still have a chance to get around' looming hospital surge

According to Shahab, Saskatchewan is about two to four weeks behind other Canadian provinces straining under the Omicron wave.

He said currently one out of every 100 people has Omicron, but he expects that to increase to one out of every 25 in a couple of weeks.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority plans to release a surge plan for hospitals on Thursday. But this lag means that the province has "the luxury of some advanced notice" and still has time to bring down case numbers by implementing measures such as private gathering restrictions and cancelling large events, according to Dr. Cory Neudorf, interim senior medical health officer with the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

"What we're hearing is a tendency to wait until we see hospital numbers and ICU numbers going up before we consider doing any other restrictions. That's very backwards," Neudorf said.

"We need to do those restrictions right now so that we don't get into the same situation of [overrun hospitals] and being two or three weeks behind in our response. We still have a chance to get around that."

Nazeem Muhajarine, professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan's college of medicine, agreed that implementing restrictions now can make a difference.

He said he believes the province will match hospitalizations and deaths that were seen at the peak of the fourth wave.

Muhajarine notes the health system that will battle this current wave has burned-out healthcare workers and high absenteeism.

"I think we are going to max out not only in terms of beds occupied, but in relation to that ratio of people needing care and people who can give care in hospital settings," Muhajarine said.

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