Saskatchewan

Sask. ICUs under immense pressure, chief medical officer may consider more measures if cases rise

Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said if COVID-19 case numbers rise and pressure on hospitals and ICUs remains high, he will recommend further health measures.

The province has discussed transferring ICU patients to Manitoba, Ontario

Saskatchewan Health Authority officials said ICUs are under immense pressure, but they haven't determined a threshold for when they would send ICU patients out of province for care. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, said if COVID-19 case numbers rise and pressure on hospitals and ICUs remains high, he will recommend further health measures.

Even though the numbers are currently plateauing, there may be a Thanksgiving bump in the case count, Shahab said at a technical briefing with officials from the government and the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) on Friday. 

"If our numbers stay as high as they are, it may not be sustainable for the health system," he said, adding people should shrink their bubbles. 

Shahab said he'd monitor the number of cases and recommend health measures if they rise again.

"At the moment, there is some plateauing, but there is still tremendous pressure on the acute care system and those are not going to come down quickly."

The government said there are 312 new cases of COVID-19 in the province, 335 people are in hospital, and 78 in ICU.

Both hospitalizations and new cases are down slightly from Thursday.

Shahab said test positivity remains high at 12 per cent provincewide and there are 38 cases of COVID per 100,000.

Plans underway to transfer critically ill patients out of Sask.

Asked on Thursday why the Saskatchewan government is not requesting health-care staff from Ottawa, Health Minister Paul Merriman said "because the Saskatchewan Health Authority is telling me they have the resources in place to meet our needs."

On Friday, SHA head of emergency operations Derek Miller said the province is in the planning stages of sending patients to Manitoba or Ontario for critical care if their needs cannot be met in Saskatchewan.

"We want to try to provide [care] as close to home as possible," Miller said.

He said the province's ICUs are under "immense pressure."

Miller said the SHA has not "established a threshold" of how many patients in ICU would initiate a request to airlift some to other provinces.

"It's important to have things in place if we need to go there," Miller said.

Miller said the SHA has 175 staff dedicated to ICUs with 600 employees having been redeployed from other areas that have been "slowed down" to join the COVID effort.

Public Safety Agency president Marlo Pritchard said the province would "utilize every resource possible before moving patients."

Pritchard said Saskatchewan has reached out to other provinces for nurses with ICU expertise.

"To date, about half have indicated that they are unable to deploy resources to Saskatchewan, but we will continue to monitor that over the weekend and into next week."

WATCH | Dr. Hassan Masri is extremely concerned:

'This is a very serious situation,' says Sask. ICU doctor

2 months ago
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Dr. Hassan Masri, an intensive care physician in Saskatoon, called the situation in Saskatchewan's ICUs 'extremely concerning'. 7:31

Vaccination boosters coming for those 65 and older

Shahab said there is evidence of breakthrough cases among those 65 and older if they are six months past their second dose, especially if they are immune-compromised. 

He said the province is planning to offer booster doses to people over 65 or those facing significant health risks in "the coming days and weeks," pending consultations with vaccine providers.

As of Thursday, nearly 75 per cent of those in hospital are not fully vaccinated, according to the province. 

"We see virtually no hospitalizations in people under 65 who are fully vaccinated," Shahab said.

Breakthrough cases which result in hospitalization are among fully vaccinated people over 80,  Shahab said, adding that those who are eligible for a booster dose should get it.

Shahab said mask-use has had an impact on lowering case numbers as has an increase in vaccinations.

Shahab expressed disappointment Saskatchewan's vaccination rates trail all provinces but Alberta. He said 85 per cent of those 12 and over have received a first dose and 74 per cent are fully vaccinated.

"Many provinces in Canada are in the high 90s now. I don't want to accept that we in Saskatchewan should be behind anyone. There's no excuse not to get vaccinated."

On Thursday, Merriman suggested Saskatchewan's vaccination rates which rank lowest among provinces with Alberta were not as low as reported because people with Saskatchewan health cards were getting their shots outside of the province.

"We have a whole bunch of health cards of people that have moved out of the province, [or] that ... have been vaccinated in other provinces but aren't being counted here in Saskatchewan. So we've been in the process of cleaning that up," he said.

In order to increase the vaccine rate by one percentage point, the province would need to have 10,000 unreported vaccinations from elsewhere.

Shahab said: "I would not like to guess on the percentage. I do not think it would make a major difference on our vaccine uptake."

98% of employees vaccinated: SHA

The deadline for SHA employees to declare whether they wish to provide a regular negative test or apply for a vaccine exemption on the basis of medical or religious grounds is Saturday.

Miller said 98 per cent have self-declared that they are fully vaccinated, 1 per cent have indicated they wish to be tested regularly, and 1 per cent said they will apply for an exemption.

"If an employee is not compliant there are normal administrative and disciplinary processes all the way up to termination," Miller said.

Millions of rapid tests headed for Sask.

The province is requesting more rapid tests from the federal government.

Pritchard said it has requested 8 million tests and Ottawa has committed to sending half in November and half in December.

There is no excuse not to get vaccinated.- Dr. Saqib Shahab

He said as of Friday, 2.6 million rapid tests would start to be sent out, most of them destined for schools. Pritchard details were to come on how the public could access tests.

He added the province is allowing private testing companies to apply to be rapid antigen test providers.

Pritchard also announced a new public health measure effective Monday at midnight, at that time fast-food restaurants will require proof of vaccination for customers 12 and over who are dining in.

In a news release Friday morning, the province listed liquor manufacturers, like breweries and distilleries, that sell alcohol. Most offsales attached to restaurants and taverns will be impacted as well.

We had our first taste of winter this week and people are sleeping outside in tents in the capital city. What is the ministry of Social Services doing about that? Leader Post columnist Murray Mandryk and CBC Saskatchewan provincial affairs reporter Adam Hunter join host Stefani Langenegger to discuss. 9:19

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Hunter

Journalist

Adam Hunter is the provincial affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. He has been with CBC for more than 14 years. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca

with files from Alex Quon, Guy Quenneville and Jessie Anton

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