Dodging 5th wave hinges on reducing contacts and more vaccinations, top Sask. doc says
'We should remain confident that people will take extra care,' Dr. Saqib Shahab says
Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer says that in order to avoid a fifth wave of COVID-19 and another spike in ICU patients by the new year, people need to reduce their social interactions as much as possible starting now and continuing into the Christmas season.
Getting more people vaccinated against the disease is also key, Dr. Saqib Shahab said in a COVID-19 media briefing on Thursday.
Shahab's caution — also shared in the form of updated COVID-19 modelling — came two days after Premier Scott Moe said he did not see his government imposing gathering restrictions during the holidays.
"We're in a very different place this Christmas season versus last Christmas," Moe said.
The premier cited the presence of vaccines and restrictions imposed in September — including indoor public masking and the proof-of-vaccination system — that he said have helped reduce case numbers.
Shahab said on Thursday that even without the government requiring people by law to reduce the size of their gatherings, people have been careful anyway, including during Thanksgiving, though some recent infection "clusters" (primary among young people) have been tied to Halloween parties, he said.
People just need to keep following the current restrictions and Shahab's strong recommendations in the weeks to come, he said.
"Reduce close contacts as much as possible," Shahab once again instructed. He also said people should adhere to proper mask use (including covering your nose), stay home if they're sick, limit their bubbles to a consistent set of family members and friends, and get vaccinated, fully vaccinated or boosted.
"From how people have really adjusted over the last few weeks, I think we should remain confident that people will take extra care," he added.
The direction to reduce mixing is what stood out to Dennis Kendel, a health policy consultant and former physician.
"We're heading toward a season for mixing as part of a social reality and we need to be cautious about how much we mix with one another," Kendel said.
The modelling shared by Shahab showed four potential scenarios going into 2022.
All four scenarios are predicated on people reducing their social contacts.
The most optimistic of the scenarios suggests Saskatchewan could reach a "sustainable" level of infected ICU patients by late January.
As of Thursday, there were a total of 92 in-province ICU patients, including 38 with COVID-19, plus 11 former Saskatchewan patients still receiving intensive care in Ontario. Saskatchewan's health system can normally staff a total of 79 ICU beds without surging.
The worst-case scenario presented by Shahab, Scenario 1, suggests the number of COVID-19 patients requiring intensive care could spike by the start of the new year.
"We all need to avoid Scenario 1, which could be potentially a fifth wave," Shahab said.
See below or click here for Shahab's full modelling presentation.
People waiting too late to go to hospital
Shahab's presentation also featured some insights into recent COVID-19 hospitalization trends.
According to the latest statistics, more than two-thirds of the COVID-19 patients who went to the hospital — "including many young people" — were admitted to an ICU within 24 hours, Shahab said.
"This shows that, if you're feeling unwell, get tested early," Shahab said. "It also shows that things can escalate quickly and all the more reason for us to get vaccinated."
Daily hospital admissions and ICU admissions have decreased compared to two weeks ago.
However, Saskatchewan remains first among western provinces for hospitalizations and occupied ICU beds per 100,000 residents.
Two of the remaining 11 transplanted Ontario ICU patients were expected back in Saskatchewan on Thursday, according to the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency.
Kendel, the former physician, said his past colleagues tell him things are hardly back to normal in hospitals.
"There's still a fair bit of strain on our ICU resources," he said. "We're still very much taxing our health-care system."
with files from Alexander Quon