Sask. has not requested Ottawa send military, health-care workers to help with COVID-19 fight, Moe says

Premier Scott Moe says his government has not requested that the federal government send military or health-care workers to support the COVID battle in hospitals, but has discussed other areas of potential assistance.

Paul Merriman sent letter requesting other forms of federal assistance

Premier Scott Moe says the province has talked to Ottawa about increasing vaccinations, rapid testing, and drug treatments used to help treat COVID-19. (Matt Duguid/CBC Saskatchewan)

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says his government has not requested that the federal government send military or health-care workers to support the COVID-19 battle in hospitals, but has discussed other areas of potential assistance.

On Monday, Moe spoke with a Saskatoon-based radio program and said both COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU admissions have more than doubled from Sept. 1 to Sept. 26.

"The pressure is very real. The pressure is quite extreme," Moe said.

He said more than 80 per cent of ICU patients are unvaccinated and they come from the 30 per cent of the eligible population who are not fully vaccinated.

"If you don't believe in science, that's the math."

Moe said he would not rule out asking for assistance if there is no indication of a peak in cases.

Moe's comments were confirmed in a letter written by Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman and obtained by CBC News on Monday evening. 

The letter written by Merriman and addressed to his federal counterpart lays out some of the issues it would like the federal government to assist with include: 

  • Bolstering vaccine uptake in regions of the province, including in Indigenous communities.
  • Increased access to rapid self-tests and making them free.
  • Financial support and expedited deployment of monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID patients in hospital. 

Three types of monoclonal antibody treatments have been approved for use in Canada: bamlanivimab, sotrovimab and the combination of casirivimab and imdevimab.

In the interview on Monday, Moe said the monoclonal treatments are "expensive" and "not a replacement for a vaccination."

Federal minister offers to help 

In a tweet on Friday, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu confirmed she'd spoken with Merriman and "ensured he knows that the federal government will be there to help the people of Saskatchewan in this health crisis. We stand ready to help wherever we are needed."

Hajdu told CBC News on Sunday that Saskatchewan has not yet formally requested federal aid, but that "we'll be ready as soon as they trigger that request."

The federal government is assisting in Alberta after the province made a formal request. It will help with air-lifting patients, ICU-registered nurses and respiratory therapists.

On Sunday, Saskatchewan set a new record for active cases, new cases and hospitalizations. On Monday, the province reported 289 hospitalizations, another all-time high.

Saskatchewan reported 552 new cases on Sunday, while Ontario — with roughly 13.5 million more people — reported 653.

Saskatchewan and Alberta have been hit hardest by the fourth wave. The two provinces' death rates are approximately quadruple the rest of Canada.

Rapid tests

As for rapid tests, the federal government already offers free rapid antigen tests for small and medium-sized businesses in Saskatchewan.

Two weeks ago, Moe said the province had secured one million rapid antigen tests from the federal government.

According to the federal government's records, Saskatchewan has received 1,865,696 rapid antigen tests. It has sent 1,551,154 tests to their final point-of-care setting. Only 309,130 of the more than 1.8 million tests received (16.5 per cent) have been reported used to Health Canada.

But the letter from Merriman details a request to the federal government for "expedited approval" of "off-label" rapid tests. 

Those off-label tests cannot currently be supplied by pharmacies to the general public. 

That's something Merriman says he hopes is resolved as the province to looks to ramp up provincial testing. 

"Health Canada approval on these options would help our efforts on ensuring tests are readily accessible to the general public," the health minister wrote. 

Boosting vaccinations

Last week, Moe criticized the federal government for not doing more to get people on First Nations vaccinated.

"Our far north and Indigenous communities are running at a vaccination rate of less than 50 per cent — an area of exclusive federal jurisdiction," Moe tweeted. "I hope … [Trudeau] will work with Saskatchewan to increase the vaccination rate in these critical communities right away."

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Marc Miller called Moe's comments "alarming and unproductive." In an online reply, Miller said Moe has a "misunderstanding of his own health-care system and the role it plays" in northern Saskatchewan.

The province's far north regions are below the rest of the province when it comes to the percentage of eligible people fully vaccinated.

The far north central has 44 per cent fully vaccinated, the far northwest is at 49 per cent and the far northeast is at 54 per cent. The provincial average is 72 per cent. 

WATCH | What's happening in Saskatchewan and Alberta hospitals: 

What’s happening inside Alberta, Sask. hospitals

1 year ago
Duration 5:35
Two infectious disease doctors talk to Ian Hanomansing about the situation inside Alberta and Saskatchewan hospitals and what the provinces need to do to get their COVID-19 surges under control.
Merriman's letter briefly mentions a suggestion from the federal government that could see the use of Canadian Rangers and Indigenous community members set up mobile clinics in remote communities.

Saskatchewan and Alberta have the lowest percentage of eligible people vaccinated in Canada. Both provinces have seen uptake increases in first and second doses since announcing vaccination policies less than two weeks ago.

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  • A previous version of this story said 3.7 million tests had been sent to Saskatchewan There were 1.8 million tests sent to Saskatchewan.
    Sep 29, 2021 1:55 PM CT

With files from CBC's Alexander Quon


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