Canadian Armed Forces deploying to Sask. to help with COVID-19 fight
Announcement comes as province's health-care system continues to be overwhelmed by cases
Federal Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair announced on Twitter Friday evening that the Canadian Armed Forces will be deployed to Saskatchewan to assist with the growing COVID-19 situation.
"The Canadian Forces will provide communities the support they need to fight the pandemic," Blair tweeted.
Prime Minster Justin Trudeau also confirmed the news on social media.
"As we work to finish the fight against COVID-19, we're going to make sure people across the country have the support they need to stay safe," Trudeau tweeted.
"Saskatchewanians, we've got your back."
Update: We’re deploying <a href="https://twitter.com/CanadianForces?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CanadianForces</a> members to Saskatchewan. As we work to finish the fight against COVID-19, we’re going to make sure people across the country have the support they need to stay safe. Saskatchewanians, we’ve got your back. <a href="https://t.co/fceVFRiPdy">https://t.co/fceVFRiPdy</a>—@JustinTrudeau
The Armed Forces confirmed to CBC News Saturday that it is prepared to help the province with up to six critical care nursing officers, who will be working in intensive care units.
"We are currently working with provincial authorities to ensure these medical professionals will be employed in the best possible location based on the needs of the people of Saskatchewan," an Armed Forces statement said.
The statement also noted the Forces will also provide air transport for in- and out-of-province patient transfers, and — upon availability — up to two medical assistance teams to backfill nurses.
The Armed Forces said it expects to wrap up its assignment by Nov. 17, but that it's prepared to stay longer if needed.
When asked for a response about the news Saturday, a spokesperson for the government of Saskatchewan referred CBC News to Friday's technical briefing with the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre. That briefing was held nearly eight hours before Blair's announcement of military aid.
Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency president Marlo Pritchard, who heads the operations centre, said during that briefing that he expected to have more details regarding "boots on the ground" in Saskatchewan at some point next week.
"Mr. Pritchard said that discussions would be ongoing throughout the weekend and that more details would be shared following that regarding specifics and deployment," said government spokesperson Julie Leggott. "That continues to be the most up-to-date information."
Support welcome, doctor says
Dr. Alex Wong, an infectious diseases specialist in Regina, says he and other health-care professionals are grateful for the additional support. He said even if the military sends the same number of personnel it sent to Alberta earlier this month, it would help.
"That's enough to staff two [or] three ICU beds," said Wong.
"That doesn't sound like a lot, but when you're in a situation in a province where you only have typically 80 ICU beds on average, two to three beds does make a significant difference."
WATCH | Ottawa sending Armed Forces members to Sask.:
A Saskatchewan Health Authority briefing this week heard that the seven-day average of COVID-19 patients in the province's ICUs is the highest per capita of any province, at any time during the pandemic.
The province reported 300 new COVID-19 cases on Friday and 12 more deaths from the illness — the third-highest single-day death total reported in the province during the pandemic.
As of Saturday, there were 288 people in hospital in Saskatchewan with COVID-19, including 77 in ICUs, according to the province's online dashboard.
Saskatchewan has already transferred six critically ill patients to Ontario, with more expected to be transferred in the coming days.
With files from Lorenda Reddekopp and Gregory Wilson