6th wave might be upon Sask., but situation less clear than in other provinces, says expert

As parts of Canada face a sixth wave of COVID-19, experts in Saskatchewan say the situation is not quite as clear in this province.

COVID-19 risk level in Sask. is moderate to high, says SHA doctor

Some people in Saskatchewan continue to wear masks despite the province dropping its mandatory masking mandate at the end of February. Dr. Cory Neudorf, interim senior medical health officer with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, recommends people continue to wear masks in indoor spaces. (CBC / Radio-Canada)

As parts of Canada face a sixth wave of COVID-19, experts in Saskatchewan say the situation is not quite as clear in this province.

Quebec announced on Tuesday it is extending the province's mask mandate in indoor public spaces until at least the end of the month because of a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Saskatchewan continues to stay away from reintroducing any pandemic related public health restrictions, despite the virus continuing to circulate in the communities.

"We're certainly showing signs of being in that sixth wave," said Dr. Cory Neudorf, professor in the department of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan, and interim senior medical health officer with the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

"The question is: how big is that wave going to be and is it going to be more like a maintenance of the fairly high level that we're at, so extending the fifth wave?"

Recent coronavirus wastewater data, published by the Global Institute for Water Security on Monday, showed decreases in viral RNA load for the second reporting period in a row for both Saskatoon and North Battleford.

At the same time, the institute announced an increase in viral levels in Prince Albert's wastewater, and the University of Regina did the same for the Queen City.

U of Sask. head of clinical microbiology expects fluctuation to continue

Data available from the province is limited, with free PCR testing being reserved for "priority populations at elevated risk," and the government having gone from daily to weekly pandemic updates.

It may not be clear if Saskatchewan has already hit a sixth pandemic wave until scientists can look back at the current situation in weeks or months, according to Joseph Blondeau, head of clinical microbiology at Saskatoon's Royal University Hospital and the University of Saskatchewan.

With the increased transmissibility of Omicron, particularly its sub-variant BA.2, and Saskatchewan having lifted all COVID-19 health restrictions at the end of February, it was to be expected that cases would go up, he said.

"Does this mean that that's a new wave or is it the anticipated blip that we were expecting? I'm not sure we have the answer to that at this point in time."

Blondeau expects case number fluctuations to continue across the province.

324 patients with COVID-19 in Sask. hospitals as of March 30, says province

According to the Government of Saskatchewan's last COVID-19 situation report, which covered the week ending March 26, 19 more people were in hospital with the disease compared to the previous reporting period.

The document also outlined 10 confirmed COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care and care home settings as well as 20 newly-reported COVID-19 deaths.

As of March 30, the province reported 120 patients with COVID-related illness, 184 incidental COVID-19 infections, and 20 patients under investigation. (Government of Saskatchewan)

"We did see the numbers bump up a little bit in the hospital, but overall, our capacity is still at about 93 per cent," said Minister of Health Paul Merriman on Monday.

"We're still in a stable position. We're keeping an eye on anything new that happens. We've seen some movement on the COVID front in Ontario and Quebec."

That weekly report also showed some potentially reasons for optimism.

For emergency department visits, there were 25.7 COVID-like illness patients per 1,000 visits during that reporting period, which was lower than the average weekly rate in the previous six weeks.

"The ICU numbers are staying very stable right now," said Neudorf.

"We expect those to delay by a few more weeks before we'd see any sign of a sixth wave with ICU cases."

In the week of March 20 to 26, the overall provincial rate of 25.7 COVID-like illness patients per 1,000 emergency department visits was lower than the average weekly rate of 35.2 per 1,000 visits in the previous six weeks. (Government of Saskatchewan)

Hospitalization already at capacity limits before the pandemic, say experts

The problem with the pandemic and hospitalization is that even before COVID-19 hit the province, Saskatchewan hospitals were already operating close to capacity limits, said Neudorf.

"All of those [COVID-19] patients are creating extra capacity beyond what our normal would be," he said.

"That's already putting a big strain on the health-care system…. It's not completely in crisis and falling apart…. At the same time, we've got this huge backlog of cases, of surgical cases certainly, that are going to take a long time to clear."

In addition, hospital staff being sick with COVID-19 and missing work creates additional pressure on the system, said Neudorf.

The growth and aging of population also plays a role in the increasing need for health care in the province, said Blondeau.

"We're going to see continued pressure on hospital beds, but it's not going to be exclusively due to COVID," he said.

"Certainly COVID is a contributing factor, but not the only factor." 

The Saskatoon Health Region continues to update its capacity report every five minutes, indicating the constant change of patient numbers in active care, transition, as well as maternal and children's units in all three Saskatoon hospitals. As of Wednesday morning, all beds at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) were occupied. However, the report does not indicate why the children are in hospital. (Saskatoon Health Region website)

Neudorf recommends people continue to wear masks indoors

While Saskatchewan is showing some indications of a potential sixth wave, the situation is less clear than in Ontario or Quebec, said Neudorf.

These provinces kept their public health restrictions in place longer and showed a steeper decline from the fifth wave, he said.

In Saskatchewan, however, the fifth and possible sixth wave might just be merging.

"It just means we really didn't get out of a fifth wave here," he said.

A potential resurgence in cases will depend a lot on the actions of the residents in Saskatchewan, according to Neudorf.

Despite the fact that mandates have been dropped in the province, people should still be cautious when it comes to the pandemic, he said.

Neudorf puts the COVID-19 risk level in Saskatchewan at moderate to high.

While he doesn't necessarily think the government should reintroduce public health mandates at this point, the messaging to people needs to be clear and consistent.

For example, Saskatchewanians should still consider being careful about crowded indoor events. When they have to attend, Neudorf highly recommends wearing masks.

"We're going to have to be living with this virus into the future," he said.

"That means keeping an eye on when things are transmitting in the communities and just being smart, being careful. You don't have to be overly fearful. You need to be just careful."

LISTEN | Dr. Cory Neudorf spoke with host Stefani Langenegger on The Morning Edition: 

Premier Scott Moe acknowledged Monday that the pandemic isn't over yet in Saskatchewan.

"COVID is here, it isn't going away this month and likely not next month," he said.

"We do need to, you know, conduct ourselves accordingly each and every day as individuals."


  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the province was conducting monthly pandemic updates.
    Apr 07, 2022 12:50 PM CT