Sask. residents pulling together as pandemic rages a hallmark of 2020: chief medical health officer

In his year end interview with CBC News, Dr. Saqib Shahab says it was Saskatchewan's ability to pull together through a pandemic that struck him the most.

Vaccination uptake key to province's success post-COVID: Dr. Saqib Shahab

Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, says the province's ability to come together through the COVID-19 pandemic stood out for him in 2020. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press)

The willingness of Saskatchewan's residents to pull together in the COVID-19 pandemic prevented a higher death toll in 2020, the province's chief medical health officer says.

While some living in long-term care might remember the Spanish flu, a pandemic as significant as COVID-19 wasn't something people working in health-care expected to see in their careers, Dr. Saqib Shahab said in his year-end interview with CBC News. 

"We prepare for the worst in society and the worst-case scenarios and the worst outcomes, but I'm always surprised when there's a crisis in Saskatchewan, for the most part [we] pull together," he said. 

"The impact is much less than it could have been if we were not pulling together and we were chaotic; not just in health-care, in our day-to-day work."

Shahab says the response to a pandemic is not just a health-care response, but an entire government and societal response.

He says governments in Canada took their own approaches to COVID-19 prevention measures and throughout his career, Shahab said he's always looked at evidence and tried to present that in as clear a way as possible to who needs it. 

Currently, Shahab says, the province is entering the most threatening phase of the pandemic, so the focus needs to be on keeping Saskatchewan's most vulnerable safe, particularly those in long-term care. 

He acknowledges it's distressing for families to be unable to visit their loved ones as often as they would like, and says the visitation restrictions are the reality and the risk of COVID-19.

"You can transmit even when you are asymptomatic, especially in the two days before symptoms well up," Shahab said. 

He says it is time for people to re-establish personal COVID-19 protection protocols, particularly for those who work in health-care and those who want to visit their loved ones in long-term care. 

Vaccination key to success in 2021

In the coming year, Shahab says, the province won't come out of the COVID-19 pandemic unless everyone is vaccinated, adding it is essential for people to stay home as much as possible through the remainder of the holiday season and into January and February. 

By March he expects most of the vulnerable population to have been vaccinated, starting with those in long-term care, then those in the 80-and-above age category followed by those 75 and older. 

Beyond that, Shahab says,the vaccine is to be distributed by five-year decrements.

"By the time spring comes and summer rolls in, our proportional population will have been clinically protected in some degrees," Shahab said. 

"So hopefully we can enjoy summer as much as, or even more than we did this year with lesser restrictions." 

He notes some precautions will have to remain in place as vaccination rollout continues through the summer, so that in the fall a more return to more normal life can continue.


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