Half of all Sask. hospital beds could soon fill with COVID-19 patients: report

Half of all Saskatchewan hospitals beds, including in the intensive care unit, could soon fill with COVID-19 patients, according to new government data.

U of S epidemiologist calls situation 'unconscionable,' calls on Premier Scott Moe to act now

Saskatchewan government data obtained by CBC News shows half of all hospital and ICU beds could soon be occupied by COVID-19 patients. (Robert Short/CBC)

Half of all Saskatchewan hospitals beds, including in the intensive care unit, could soon be filled with COVID-19 patients, according to government data.

This and other information was obtained by CBC News following a Saskatchewan Health Authority presentation to doctors Thursday. It contains the darkest projections yet of the virus's spread in the province and its potentially devastating impacts on the health care system.

After CBC reported on the presentation Friday, the Government of Saskatchewan released the presentation to media.

The presentation includes long-term forecasts, but also warns of a potentially massive swell over the next two weeks. That's well before anyone will know the effect of the most recent government restrictions, a note on one slide reads.

"These numbers are astounding," University of Saskatchewan epidemiologist Nazeem Muhajarine said.

"All of this will put tremendous pressure, relentless pressure, on our health care workers, our doctors and nurses, who are already run ragged right now, really stretched thin. This is unconscionable."

According to the SHA data shared at the meeting, which is updated to Nov. 23, case counts and hospitalizations are up 400 per cent in the past month. On the current trajectory, that would mean 200 COVID-19 patients in hospital within the next two weeks, almost double the current number, it stated.

"[The curve] is going straight up, vertically up. The numbers really need to concern us," Muhajarine said.

ICU capacity is already strained, with Saskatoon hospital officials sending several patients to smaller centres this month.

University of Saskatchewan epidemiologist Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine says it's 'unconscionable' the government isn't taking stronger action to fight COVID-19, given the new data. (Kristen McEwen/University of Saskatchewan)

Numbers are 'sobering'

Under the new models, more than 50 ICU beds could be taken by COVID-19 patients in the next two weeks alone, more than double the current count of 18. The ICU total could eventually increase by as much as 500 per cent and remain at that level for four to six months.

Ventilator capacity could also be exceeded by mid-January, and remain that way for up to six months, the presentation read.

"The updated models differ dramatically from what was presented to the public as an optimistic scenario just last week," said Saskatoon emergency and trauma specialist Dr. Brent Thoma.

Regina cardiologist Dr. Andrea Lavoie agreed, calling the numbers "sobering" but not unexpected.

"They're trying to give the rosiest information [to the public]," she said. "They don't want people to worry. It's hard to hear that. But [doctors] have to talk about the details."

Regina cardiologist Dr. Andrea Lavoie calls the new COVID-19 projections 'sobering' but not surprising. She says government, business, community groups and the public all must do more to flatten the curve. (Submitted by Dr. Andrea Lavoie)

She said it will be a challenge to treat the growing number of COVID-19 patients, but Saskatchewan people also need surgeries, treatment and care for a host of other maladies at the same time.

"If we're busy taking care of COVID patients, other people get pushed to the back of the line. Where do we put the heart attack patients [after surgery]?" she said. 

Doctors want the government to do more

Premier Scott Moe and others announced new restrictions on gathering sizes of all kinds this week. The new measures took effect Friday. Muhajarine, Lavoie, Thoma and others said it's not nearly enough.

Muhajarine said it's unbelievable the government is still allowing people to eat and drink alcohol unmasked together for hours at a time in restaurants, pubs, bars, night clubs and other venues. He and others have advocated a short-term shut-down of these "high-risk" venues with better supports for affected businesses and workers.

The recent surge was predicted more than two weeks ago in an open letter to Moe and others signed by hundreds of doctors calling for action.

Lavoie said physicians want the government to do more, but said there was also a lot of discussion at the meeting  about ways everyone can work together. She believes the curve can be flattened with a strict but unified approach from government, businesses, community groups and the public.

Previous SHA meetings with doctors are posted on its website, complete with charts and audio recordings, but Thursday's meeting was not posted as of late Friday morning.

In an email, an SHA official said they'll be monitoring the situation closely. They said modelling is not an exact science, and the projections should be treated with caution.

They said these new numbers are an update and extension of the information released last week.

They said they hope to have a new modelling update for the public some time next week.


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