Sask. doctors warned by public health officials that more measures are necessary to blunt 4th wave

Physicians in Saskatchewan are worried about the fourth wave of COVID-19 and the impacts it will have on the health-care system if measures aren't put in place to blunt its impact.

Hospitalizations, case numbers, 7-day daily averages all rising as Sask. enters 4th wave

Ryan Meili, the leader of the Saskatchewan NDP, spoke outside his Saskatoon constituency office on Aug. 27, 2021. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Numbers shared at Thursday night's physician town paint a grim picture of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan.

Slides shared at the weekly meeting showed COVID-19 case counts quadrupling over the last month. 

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases had increased dramatically to 172 as of Thursday. On July 21 that number sat at 31.

Hospitalization totals saw a 30 per cent increase in one week and ICU admissions continue to trend upward. The average age of those hospitalized is lowering, with 37 per cent of people being under 39.

Saskatchewan also has the lowest immunization rate in all of Canada, and the lowest coverage in children and young adults. 

Nationally, slightly more than 83 per cent of the population has received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. In Saskatchewan that number hovers over the 75 per cent mark. 

More than 75 per cent of the population of Canada has had a second dose of COVID-19 vaccine. In Saskatchewan it is slightly more than 66 per cent. 

What is our plan that is going to get us through the next wave?- Dr. Brent Thoma

The provincial health-care system is coming under stress as the fourth wave of COVID-19 ramps up in Saskatchewan.

"Public health workforce cannot keep up with the volume of contact tracing, isolation, case outbreak investigation and immunization," the slides said. 

The "offensive strategy" highlighted in the presentation noted cases and hospital admission will continue to rise in Saskatchewan, based on what's happening in other jurisdictions and modelling data.

Several suggestions for how to blunt the the fourth wave's impact were made, including reintroducing mandatory mask mandates indoors, and mandatory immunization or frequent testing for health-care workers, teachers and other at-risk groups.

Reductions in personal and public gathering sizes and vaccine "passports" for non-essential social events were also suggested to combat the spread of COVID-19, as was the strategic use of testing. 

Opposition calls premier and health minister 'irresponsible, stupid men'

On Friday, the leader of the Opposition Saskatchewan NDP party again criticized the provincial government for not announcing such measures.

"Scott Moe and Paul Merriman have simply said no. They don't care," Ryan Meili said of Saskatchewan's premier and health minister. "These are irresponsible, stupid men who have made choices that have cost too many lives and will only cost more."

Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau promised $1 billion in funding for provinces that want to move forward with vaccine passport programs if his party is re-elected.

"I hope that that will see us have some change," Meili said, before adding that Moe "will even resist the federal government when this is something that's so clearly needed." 

A spokesperson for the province reiterated that the Saskatchewan government is not looking at implementing a proof of vaccination policy. 

"The Liberal leader's funding revealed today is a campaign commitment, not a government announcement," the spokesperson said. "Given the federal election is not until Sept. 20 and the people of Canada have yet to choose who will form government, this commitment has no impact on our decisions today."

Saskatoon's Dr. Brent Thoma spoke at Thursday's town hall. He said he was disappointed to see no improvement since the last time he spoke at such a meeting, about a month ago. 

"It's fair to say that many of my colleagues have told me over the last few weeks our emergency departments are in the worst state they have ever been in," Thoma said. 

He said Royal University Hospital's emergency unit has about 40 beds available to patients, counting spots in the pediatrics unit. The department has seen up to 98 patients at a time.

City Hospital, Thoma said, has seen up to nine patients admitted overnight, despite that department not being open, and has seen patients stay for five to six days at a time before they get consultation or are transferred. 

St. Paul's, he said, has seen staffing shortages resulting in unsafe patient to staff ratios. One evening shift at that hospital ran with just seven nurses, when the baseline is 15, he said.

Ambulances have also been impacted and have at times been unable to respond to calls in a timely fashion because they were stuck in hospital hallways, he said. 

"What's the plan? And I don't mean like in three months, I mean like tomorrow, next week, what is our plan that is going to get us through the next wave?" Thoma asked.

Hinz said people on the frontlines of Saskatchewan's child psychiatric community knew this was a “looming crisis” bound to happen, because of challenges with recruitment and a pending retirement. (Jen Talloden Photography)

Doctors 'caught in the middle' 

Dr. Tamara Hinz, a child psychiatrist in Saskatoon, was among those listening to Thoma and other doctors' presentations on Thursday.

She said she feels "caught in the middle" because individual doctors don't have "any of that decision-making power" to bring in restrictions.

"I assume the health authority must also be feeling that," she said. "We're left sort of with the consequences of those policies and those decisions. 

"It's a difficult and an awkward place to be in, to see the modelling, to see what the hospital capacity looks like, and what those projections look like, yet really hold very little power when it comes to having the decision-making authority to alter that path." 

With files from The Morning Edition, Guy Quenneville and Gregory Wilson


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