REGINA — A microbiologist says it's time to "compel people or convince people" to change their behaviour if Saskatchewan hopes to begin lowering its COVID-19 caseload.
The Public Health Agency of Canada says the province has the country's highest rate of active cases per 100,000 people at 319. Another 312 infections were reported Thursday.
"Right now, the things that we're doing are still causing our numbers to go up. If we want our numbers to go down, we need to actually hit the brakes," said Kyle Anderson, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.
"We need to either compel people or convince people that they need to be more responsible in what they're doing."
Premier Scott Moe and the province's chief medical health officer decided earlier this week to wait another 14 days to see if existing public health orders bring down a spike in cases — attributed to holiday gatherings — before deciding whether further measures are needed.
"We all know the right things to do even if we aren't forced to do it. And the fact that Saskatchewan has the worst numbers means we are following the rules the least," said Anderson.
Current measures forbid guests in private homes, but people can still gather outdoors in groups of 10, go shopping and visit restaurants — although businesses must restrict their capacity. Same with personal services, such as hair salons.
Bingo halls and casinos are the only activities are shut down and team sports are banned, except for kids in small practice groups.
Moe, citing concern over job losses and people's well-being, has rejected returning the province to a full economic shutdown.
As of Thursday, 206 people were in hospital with COVID-19, with 33 of them receiving intensive care. For weeks, health officials have warned about the strain the pandemic's second wave has been having on contact tracing and ICUs.
Fifteen of Saskatoon's 23 intensive care beds were filled with COVID-19 patients Thursday.
Anderson said he expects to see more hospitalizations because people who are in those beds now became infected weeks ago, and there's a lag time before more recent cases result in hospital admissions.
Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine, also a professor at the University of Saskatchewan in community health and epidemiology, said circumstances change quickly in a pandemic, and the province's active case rate could be lower by the weekend.
But he doesn't believe Saskatchewan would fall far behind that many other provinces. He suggested what's more important is to watch the trajectory of new infections, which has formed a "steep slope."
"There is a correlation, connection between more cases, more hospital beds occupied, also more ICU care needed and more deaths.
"It's more, more, more."
He said another concerning trend is how many people are dying each day, including those who weren't living in long-term care homes or who were younger than 50.
Since the start of January, health officials have reported 51 deaths.
"That worries me," said Muhajarine.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 14, 2021
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press