High COVID transmission levels in Sask. could continue for months: epidemiologist

Saskatchewan reached a near-record 403 COVID hospitalizations as of Wednesday, the last available data in the province's weekly report released on Thursday. The record was 410 hospitalizations in mid-February.

Saskatchewan reached near-record 403 COVID hospitalizations this week

Saskatchewan reached a near-record 403 COVID-19 hospitalizations, as of Wednesday. An epidemiologist says the high levels of COVID-19 transmission in the province could likely go on for months. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

High levels of COVID-19 transmission in Saskatchewan could likely go on "for months," according to an epidemiologist and official with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA).

Saskatchewan reached a near-record 403 COVID hospitalizations as of Wednesday, the last available data in the province's weekly report released on Thursday. The record was 410 hospitalizations in mid-February.

Of those in hospital, 25 were in intensive care — an increase from 20 last week. 

Thursday's update also showed 43.4 COVID-like illness patients were showing up per 1,000 emergency room visits.

"Without a change in people's behaviour so that we can get transmission rates down, that [level of transmission] is going to continue for months yet, which creates a very unsafe situation for people," said Dr. Cory Neudorf, an epidemiologist and the interim senior medical health officer for the SHA.

Saskatchewan was still at a high level of transmission when it became the first province to drop all COVID-19 mandates on Feb. 28, and hadn't come down from the peak of the fifth wave, Neudorf said.

Per capita hospitalization rate higher than larger provinces

Meanwhile, provinces that kept their COVID measures in place longer had their fifth wave come down more sharply, Neudorf pointed out, though the sixth wave is ramping up in those provinces, driven by the more transmissible BA.2 variant.

"The issue is if they reintroduce those restrictions, they can bring that wave down very, very quickly because they're starting at a lower rate," Neudorf said in an interview with CBC News.

"For us, even if we could get everybody to keep masking again, it's going to take longer to come down because we're starting at a high level."

Dr. Cory Neudorf, the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s interim senior medical health officer and an epidemiologist, says unlike other provinces that kept COVID restrictions in place longer, Saskatchewan wasn't able to come down from its fifth wave. (Submitted by Saskatchewan Health Authority)

Provinces such as Ontario and British Columbia which dropped restrictions after Saskatchewan have fewer COVID hospitalizations on a per capita basis. 

Ontario, which is about 12 times the population of Saskatchewan, reported 1,392 people in hospital with COVID on Thursday, while B.C., about four times the population of Saskatchewan, reported 364. 

Saskatchewan has more than four times as many COVID hospitalizations per capita as B.C. and nearly four times as many as Ontario, per the latest data from those provinces' respective dashboards. 

Rate 'unsustainable'

Nazeem Muhajarine, a professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan, said current COVID rates are "unsustainable" for the health-care system. 

"This is not a pressure on the health-care system, hospitalizations, ED [emergency department] visits that we can continue to sustain without real loss of personnel, further degradation of morale, maybe quality of care," he told CBC News on Friday.

Muhajarine and Neudorf urge people to wear masks indoors — even without government mandates — gather outdoors and get vaccinated, including booster shots.

Provincial data provided on Thursday shows 51.5 per cent of the population over 18 now has at least one booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Nationally, 57.07 per cent of adults have gotten three vaccine doses, per the Government of Canada's latest data on April 3.

Unvaccinated people are about five times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID and about 10 times more likely to be admitted to ICU, compared to those with two vaccine doses and a booster, according to Saskatchewan's preliminary data on breakthrough COVID-19 infections.


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