More vaccines being sent to Saskatoon to preserve city's ICU capacity: health minister

"We don't want things to get overwhelmed in Saskatoon," Minister Paul Merriman says.

'We don't want things to get overwhelmed in Saskatoon,' Minister Paul Merriman says

Saskatoon's COVID-19 vaccine drive-thru clinic was reopened for the past weekend while Regina's remained closed. (Matthew Howard/CBC)

A higher proportion of COVID-19 vaccines is being funnelled to Saskatoon to help preserve that city's capacity to take on any overflow of infected ICU patients, Saskatchewan's health minister says. 

Recent days have seen an ever-widening gulf between the number of vaccine doses administered in Saskatoon versus the amount given out in Regina.

Last Friday, health officials reported 2,276 doses administered in Saskatoon compared to 1,197 in Regina.

By Monday, the number of doses given out in Saskatoon dwarfed that of Regina: 1,704 to 411. 

Health Minister Paul Merriman said the closure of the COVID-19 vaccine drive-thru in Regina over the weekend, while the Saskatoon drive-thru was reopened, partly accounted for the disparity.

Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman speaks to reporters at the legislative assembly on April 26. (CBC)

He added "not a lot of people" are booking COVID-19 vaccine appointments on the weekend and that people should get their shots as soon as possible.

But Merriman also noted a recent change in vaccine distribution policy.

"The reason that we're getting into Saskatoon a little bit more is to make sure that we're protecting our provincial health-care capacity," Merriman said. "We don't want things to get overwhelmed in Saskatoon because that is our provincial capacity — kind of our reserves."

Merriman was referring to Saskatoon's intensive care units, which are positioned to take in critical infected patients for whom there is no room in Regina. Regina's ICUs are currently above their natural capacity but making do by double-bunking COVID-19 patients and adding beds. 

Dr. Susan Shaw, the Saskatchewan Health Authority's chief medical officer and a clinician who worked as recently as Saturday in Saskatoon's intensive care wards, said the ICUs are "very busy."

"It's a controlled calmness because that's our job," Shaw said. 

"Staff are are very committed to their patients, the families and each other, while also — and I can see it in their faces and hear it in their words — they're tired. And I think they're concerned about how much longer can we deal with so many more patients who are so sick, staying so long, they're not guaranteed a good outcome."

WATCH | Dr. Susan Shaw on how variants have changed the face of Saskatchewan's ICUs:

More measures need in Saskatoon: Opposition

The province also does not want to see COVID-19 variants of concern take hold in Saskatoon as they have in Regina, Merriman said. More than half of Regina's daily new cases are variants of concern, officials have previously said. 

Merriman's comments about protecting Saskatoon's bed capacity came on the heels of new data from the University of Saskatchewan showing a recent 312-per-cent spike in viral load in Saskatoon's wastewater — potentially suggesting a rise of COVID-19 cases in the city.

University of Saskatchewan researchers regularly monitoring Saskatoon's wastewater for signs of COVID-19 are flagging a concerning spike. From April 16 to 20, they noted a 312 per cent increase in the water's viral RNA load compared to the previous week. (University of Saskatchewan)

Merriman said the wastewater results are one of several measurements the province looks at when mulling any potential new public health restrictions. He said the province has already taken action by extending more restrictive measures, which were previously limited to Regina, to Saskatoon and the rest of the province. 

Ryan Meili, the leader of the Saskatchewan NDP, said more of the restrictions imposed in Regina — including a ban on indoor dining — "need to be added in Saskatoon and any other places where we're seeing the numbers rise the way that we are."

"Why, weeks into this, is this government still reluctant to take any serious measures?" Meili said. "We still have people in Saskatoon [where] the bars are full."


Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Saskatoon

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with files from Adam Hunter


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