Saskatoon

Doctors, Official Opposition call for gathering limits as Sask. ICUs remain swamped

New COVID-19 modelling in Saskatchewan suggests more public health restrictions are needed to bend the curve.

New modelling suggests more public health restrictions are needed to bend the curve

Ryan Meili, the leader of the Opposition Saskatchewan NDP, and Vicki Mowat, the party's critic on health matters, address the media on Oct. 21, 2021. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Doctors and the Official Opposition are calling on the Saskatchewan government to impose gathering restrictions on the public — something the province's own recent modelling suggests is needed to bend the curve of COVID-19. 

Health-care workers in the province are caring for a larger-than-normal number of people in intensive care units, including 76 people with COVID-19 as of Thursday, to say nothing of dozens of others in ICU without the disease. As a result, Saskatchewan has sent some patients to other provinces.

Normally, the health system only has room for 79 ICU patients in total. 

In a statement issued Thursday, the Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) said the patient transfers underscore the need for the province to reintroduce gathering limits, which were scrapped alongside all other public health measures on July 11.


The government has brought back some restrictions in recent weeks, including the requirement for people to mask up in public places and a proof-of-vaccination policy for health care workers, government employees and people looking to enter some non-essential businesses.

But critics have sought more as the number of infected ICU patients has remained high.

"The transfer of critically ill patients out of Saskatchewan to Ontario is a clear sign that our health system can't cope," said SMA president Dr. Eben Strydom in a news release. 

Temporary gathering limits will help reduce community transmission of COVID-19, Strydom said. 

"We are not asking for a lockdown," he said. 

The call for gathering restrictions was echoed Thursday by Ryan Meili, the leader of the Opposition Saskatchewan NDP.

"We cannot wait any longer," Meili said during a news conference shortly before the province announced two more people died of COVID-19, bringing the province's total pandemic death toll to 800. 

More than a quarter of Saskatchewan's COVID-19 deaths have occurred since the province lifted all restrictions in July.

'Time to stop asking nicely'

Another group, the Canadian Medical Association, said Thursday "it is time to stop asking nicely" when it comes to calling on the Saskatchewan government to adopt more preventative measures to combat the fourth wave of COVID-19.

Dr. Katharine Smart issued her statement one day after Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, broke down while presenting dire new modelling on the province's COVID-19 situation.

That modelling suggests the number of Saskatchewan residents infected with COVID-19 and placed under intensive care could more than double by the new year if no additional public health measures are brought in — and if people don't change their behaviours in the next few weeks.

Additional measures could include capacity limits, public and private gathering limits and people staying home to work. 

(Saskatchewan government)

Shahab also urged people to wear masks, get tested and vaccinated, be careful around gatherings, not throw Halloween parties, limit their social bubbles and follow all current public health orders. 

"The modelling was both alarming and heartbreaking," Smart said in her statement. "We call on the provincial government to reinstate strict public measures, as recommended by medical experts to protect the people of Saskatchewan. Any further delays are simply not acceptable."

Dr. Katharine Smart is the president of the Canadian Medical Association. (Canadian Medical Association/Twitter)

Smart called for circuit breakers without outlining what those might look like. 

She also urged the government to increase vaccination rates through mandatory vaccination in health care settings, which the province has already done. All Saskatchewan Health Authority workers must be fully vaccinated or else face regular testing to confirm they don't have COVID-19.

WATCH | Dr. Shahab breaks down during COVID-19 news conference:


Shahab has declined to specify what COVID-19 public health recommendations he has made to the government, saying it's up to cabinet to disclose those details.

"From my side, all options are presented to government and it is up to government to accept options that they think are appropriate for that point in time," Shahab said. "But again, my preference is that we be proactive rather than reactive."

Meili said he understood the position Shahab is in as an employee of the Minister of Health, and called on the government to be transparent about Shahab's recommendations.

The government has repeatedly declined to share the recommendations.

Meili said the system should be changed to ensure the chief medical health officer is independent and has the power to enact new public health orders.

"Premier Moe shares Dr. Shahab's concerns regarding the number of people impacted by what is largely a preventable disease," the government's director of communications said in the wake of Shahab's comments. 

"Dr. Shahab has served this province impeccably, providing sound advice and guidance and working just as hard as many other healthcare professionals have throughout the past 20 months."


Below is the full modelling presentation shared on Wednesday. 

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Corrections

  • A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Dr. Katharine Smart worked in Saskatchewan. In fact, she works in Whitehorse, Yukon.
    Oct 21, 2021 2:18 PM CT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Saskatoon

Story tips? guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

with files from Alexander Quon

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