Sask. health-care system risks being 'knocked out' by COVID surge: Nurses union

The president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses says the provincial government must implement stronger regulations to avoid overwhelming the health-care system that's already stretched thin because of mounting COVID-19 cases.

Tracy Zambory calls for province-wide mask mandate, stricter measures to control virus

Saskatchewan reported 181 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and 68 people are now in hospital. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Saskatchewan's new measures meant to deal with the rising spread of coronavirus aren't enough to stop the already-burdened health-care system from being entirely overwhelmed,  said Tracy Zambory, president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses. 

"They haven't gone far enough," Zambory said of new restrictions rolled out Monday. 

Saskatchewan's new public health regulations require people in communities with populations of over 5,000 to wear a mask in indoor public spaces. Zambory has joined the growing chorus of health-care professionals and advocates calling for the mask mandate to be extended provincewide. 

Zambory said many smaller communities not included in the mask mandate — like her town of Stoughton, Sask. — have long-term care or assisted living facilities that house the most vulnerable people. 

On Monday, the province reported 181 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total of active cases to 1,928. Sixty-eight people are in hospital — nearly double the 37 in hospital one week prior. 

'Next door to out-of-control'

Zambory said rising numbers have nurses feeling exhausted, scared and frustrated.

"Now that this is ramped up even more and the cases — we're next door to out-of control — they're feeling more scared than ever on how they protect themselves and how they protect their family." 

A union representing more than 30,000 people who work in health care and education decried the steps taken by the Saskatchewan government.

"The provincial government's so-called 'return to basics' approach to COVID fails to implement even the most basic regulations to prevent the spread of the virus," said Judy Henley, president of CUPE Saskatchewan, in a statement issued Friday.

"Closing hookah bars and shutting down bars earlier will not do enough to curb the ballooning rates of infection."

Henley noted outbreaks in Indian Head, Esterhazy and Big River demonstrate how small towns are not immune. CUPE Saskatchewan also called for a province-wide mask mandate. 

Zambory pointed to concerning situations in the communities that border Saskatchewan: Manitoba, Alberta and North Dakota where cases are climbing rapidly. However, she also noted some jurisdictions overseas have successfully implemented circuit breaker shutdowns, which are strict shutdowns for a number of weeks that give health-care systems and contact tracers a chance to catch up.

Tracy Zambory said nurses are fearful that the province will lose control of the coronavirus and the health-care system will not be able to handle the surge. (Saskatchewan Union of Nurses)

She said the province should weigh this option to gain control of the virus before it's too late. Zambory also suggested other health-care services could be reduced to divert resources to getting the coronavirus under control. 

"The fear is that we're going to lose control, that the health-care system is going to be — we're going to be not just down on our knees but we're going to be knocked out," she said.

"We're going to see more deaths and we're going to have no choice but to have a month-long shutdown that will do more than harm the economy. It will completely flatten it."  

She called on the premier to "show leadership" and implement stricter public health measures. 

On Sunday, Premier Scott Moe tweeted that the government was considering more measures "in consultation with public health officials."

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With files from CBC's Saskatoon Morning