Sask. needs to proceed cautiously into 2022 with Omicron on the rise: Dr. Shahab

·3 min read
Premier Scott Moe and Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchenwan's chief medical health officer, speak at a COVID-19 briefing. (CBC - image credit)
Premier Scott Moe and Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchenwan's chief medical health officer, speak at a COVID-19 briefing. (CBC - image credit)

Saskatchewan's top doctor says that the province needs to be cautious as the holiday season approaches.

In a year-end interview, Dr. Saqib Shahab said the number of COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron coronavirus variant in Saskatchewan may be low right now, but that could change rapidly.

The chief medical health officer pointed to the rapidly evolving situations in other provinces across Canada.

With many questions lingering around the newest virus variant, he recommended everyone get fully vaccinated, and get a booster dose once they're able to.

"We should all think how lucky we are to be in Saskatchewan and in Canada, to be able to actually offer boosters now with a three month interval," Shahab told CBC's Sam Maciag.

"We need to take advantage of this opportunity and get boosted as quickly as we can."'

While this holiday season is different from the last, that it doesn't mean anyone should throw caution to the wind, he said.

At the end of 2020, Saskatchewan was experiencing a record spread of COVID-19.

In response, officials implemented restrictions on gatherings, allowing only members of a single household to gather in homes over the Christmas holidays.

WATCH| In conversation with Dr. Saqib Shahab as he reflects on 2021:

The decision was necessary at that point, but it doesn't need to be repeated this year, said Shahab.

He pointed to the high rates of vaccination, the relatively low number of cases in the province right now and the general abundance of rapid testing kits.

"I would really recommend … every time we go into a gathering, everyone should test themselves. If you know you're asymptomatic or test negative, that's a great reason to feel reassured," Shahab said.

A personal cost

While 2021 is nearing its end, the effects of the year's events will be long lasting.

The province recorded the deadliest single month of the pandemic in October, during the depths of a Delta-fuelled fourth wave, and 27 intensive care patients had to be airlifted to Ontario for treatment.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

As one of the faces of the province's COVID-19 response, Shahab said the year's events have weighed heavily on him.

Like COVID-19, the emotional toll has come in waves, he said.

Protesters have appeared outside of his home. In another incident that drew national attention, he became emotional when publicly calling for people to get vaccinated.

WATCH | Saskatchewan's chief medical makes emotional plea:

Despite the hardship, Shahab laughed when asked if he's ever thought about walking away and quitting during this year.

"It's not just me. [It's] everyone who works in public health," he said.

He referred to the efforts of those he works alongside, like the epidemiologists who get up at 3 a.m. every day to process data and make sure it is available for the public.

Many doctors and experts have stepped into the public eye, he said, fulfilling a role that they likely never thought they would do.

"Most of us have stepped forward, not stepped back. But we also have to recognize it has taken a toll and it has taken a toll on all of us," said Shahab.

The province's top doctor also praised Scott Livingstone, the now-former CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

He called Livingstone "a tremendous colleague throughout the pandemic," and said while he doesn't know the reason for the CEO's sudden resignation, he noted many have had plans interrupted by COVID-19.

That's the cost of being a public figure during a pandemic, said Shahab.

The top doctor also commended the people of Saskatchewan for how they have handled the pandemic and recommended that everyone support one another.

"[It's] time to think about your friends and family who may not have those connections and reach out.

"I think that's what people in Saskatchewan do really well, and that is, I think, something we should do this year as well."

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