Saskatoon

Senior Sask. doctor says lockdown should be considered if COVID cases continue to rise

While Dr. Susan Shaw says the province's intensive care units are currently able to handle both COVID-19 patients and emergency care, she's concerned that eventually may not be the case.

Dr. Susan Shaw worried about future state of hospital care if infection rate doesn't drop

Saskatchewan hit a new COVID-19 hospitalization record this week. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Dr. Susan Shaw says Saskatchewan's intensive care units (ICUs) are still able to handle both COVID-19 patients and emergency care, but she's concerned that eventually may not be the case.

On Monday, Saskatchewan reported 519 new cases of COVID-19 across the province. Even more concerning was a new hospitalization record, with 253 people in hospital with COVID-19 and 56 in intensive care.

Dr. Shaw, the Saskatchewan Health Authority's chief medical officer and an ICU doctor, said the threat of triaging patients — doctors having to decide which emergency cases would receive treatment — is always looming.

"I think it remains front of mind for many of us that we are close or that we could be getting close to that," Shaw told CBC Radio's The Morning Edition.

"Right now, we're not there."

Shaw said doctors in ICUs are able to deal with the emergency cases on their plate right now, with some modifications. The Saskatchewan Health Authority is planning and staffing 98 ICU beds, up from the normal number of 79.

Pediatric ICU beds have been repurposed for adults to deal with the strain on resources.

Dr. Susan Shaw said she's concerned with a growing number of COVID-19 cases. (Zoom)

Surgeries that would normally require an ICU bed are being postponed to deal with the surge.

"If that surgery needs to happen for the safety of the patient, then the surgery happens," she said. 

"But if it's a surgery that can be delayed a few weeks, then the surgeons and the team are looking at that and making that difficult decision to ask that patient to wait." 

Shaw said it's very difficult to predict when the health system will reach the breaking point and she does not want to find out.

Dr. Alexander Wong, an infectious diseases doctor at Regina General Hospital, has called for a lockdown in the province.

"It's certainly a strategy that I think should be considered and and put into that mix of options available," Shaw said of a lockdown.

"When we get people together, we really are giving the virus the opportunity to move on to the next person, to the next families, the next community."

Shaw said she's happy that the province has moved forward with a mask mandate as well as setting up a vaccine QR code system.

She predicts that without a significant change in vaccination rates or policy, the current trend will peak in early winter.

"I don't think anyone can predict what this will look like until we see what people's choices are related to vaccination," she said.

"I think it really does depend on how quickly Saskatchewan can get to 85 to 90 per cent of all people vaccinated."

With files from Janani Whitfield, The Morning Edition

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