COVID hospitalizations steady in Sask., respiratory viruses increasing

The Saskatchewan government published its first report about the spread of COVID and other respiratory illnesses in the province on Thursday.

Province’s top doctor says Sask. could have concurrent surges of COVID and influenza

A worker prepares a COVID-19 test.
According to a new report, respiratory viral activity is increasing in Saskatchewan. (CBC)

Respiratory viral activity is increasing in Saskatchewan, while COVID hospitalizations have been steady since July, according to a report released by the provincial Ministry of Health Thursday.

The report, which combines data about COVID and other respiratory illnesses, replaces the monthly COVID-focused reports the province previously shared. 

Saskatchewan's Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said the format of the report has changed because there are now more respiratory viruses circulating.

"This is the time that we anticipated respiratory viruses coming," Shahab told reporters Wednesday. "So I think the timing of this is right."

The health ministry will release the report biweekly during respiratory illness season, rather than monthly as the COVID reports had been since earlier this year.

Confirmed COVID cases and deaths have slightly decreased, with people 60 and older being the predominant sufferers, according to the province. There were 39 COVID-related deaths in the province from Sept. 11 to Oct. 8.

Shahab recommends masking

Shahab said COVID hospitalizations started rising in September but are now at a "plateau."

According to the report, there are about 160 hospitalizations per week.

Intensive care admissions are also steady, with about nine per week, the report said.

Shahab said most hospitalized patients are older and were admitted for a different reason but then developed COVID symptoms. He said he still recommends masking to keep the health-care system under control.

"Certainly wearing a mask, especially if you're older, have immune suppression, will help to keep our hospitalization numbers lower," Shahab said. 

Saskatchewan's Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said it’s possible the province could experience concurrent surges of COVID and influenza. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

Shahab predicts an early flu season and said the province could face several different COVID scenarios. 

"One is that our COVID rates will start stabilizing and declining over a month or so and then flu will start picking up," he said.

However, if COVID rates continue to increase, the province could have simultaneous surges of COVID and influenza, Shahab said. 

"Influenza can come anywhere from November to March, we can't predict when they'll come, but I think we should prepare for an early flu season and not delay getting our flu vaccine," he said. 

Low uptake of bivalent vaccine

The report said that outside of Regina — where the rate is 51 per cent — less than half of the population in every other region is up-to-date with their COVID vaccines, which the province defines as having the primary series of shots and at least one booster.

All Saskatchewan residents 18 and older are eligible for the bivalent COVID vaccine, which targets the virus strains now most common in Canada, as long as it has been at least four months since their last dose.

So far, only 3.6 per cent of eligible adults have received the bivalent shot, according to the report. 

The Pfizer bivalent vaccine, which Health Canada approved last week, will be available to Saskatchewan residents starting next week, according to Health Minister Paul Merriman.

The Moderna bivalent vaccine has been available for several weeks.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization has said that mRNA bivalent COVID-19 vaccines are now the preferred booster shot.

Shahab said it's important for people to be up-to-date with their COVID vaccines.

"For COVID, I think we have to remember that it doesn't matter how many doses you got in the past. If you're four months out from your last COVID dose, go and get a bivalent," he said.

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