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5 sobering details from Saskatchewan's COVID-19 data and modelling

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On Wednesday, the Saskatchewan government released its COVID-19 data and modelling which projects what the coming weeks and months could look like in a province that currently has the highest coronavirus-related death rate in Canada.

During a teleconference where health officials discussed the data with news media, Saskatchewan's Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab could be heard fighting back tears at one point.

While by its nature, modelling data is speculative, it is an informed "best guess" tool used by health officials to help guide decisions, offer advice to policymakers and anticipate potential trends.

Here are five key details drawn from the data and modelling:

20,000 SURGERIES AND PROCEDURES COULD BE CANCELLED BEFORE THE START OF 2022

The fourth wave explosion of COVID-19-related hospital and ICU admissions has stretched the province's health system to its limits, resulting in a "slowdown" where surgeries and medical procedures have been postponed to free up resources.

Under a scenario where Saskatchewan has now reached its "worst" point and new daily cases start to decline and it "only takes three months" to bring down the level of COVID-19 related admissions, the Saskatchewan Health Authority would still not be back to "normal" operation until the start of 2022, according to the data.

WITHOUT ADDITIONAL PUBLIC HEALTH MEASURES, ICU ADMISSIONS COULD SOAR EVEN HIGHER THIS WINTER

Under a scenario where "current mixing behaviour" continues, ICU admissions could skyrocket, with well over 200 ICU admissions predicted by Jan. 1. That's taking into account the recently announced plan to deliver booster shots to older adults.

The typical load of more than 80 ICU patients Saskatchewan has been coping with has already resulted in unprecedented strain on its health care system.

The projected trend improves significantly under a scenario where there is "further reduction in how much people are in contact with each other."

The proposed steps, which would not include a lockdown, could include private and public gathering limits, capacity limits and work from home where possible. If the measures were in place for 28 days, the projected number of ICU patients as of Jan. 1 drops below 50.

Earlier this week, Premier Scott Moe indicated additional measures related to gathering sizes were off the table for now.

YOUNGER PEOPLE ARE PLAYING A SUBSTANTIAL ROLE IN DRIVING THE CURRENT SURGE

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, concern was focused on older adults who were more ​likely to experience severe outcomes related to the illness. However, SHA data shows that 40 per cent of coronavirus-related admissions involve people who are under 50

Underscoring the increased risk posed by the Delta variant which is fueling the fourth wave, patients between the ages of 18 and 29 make up nearly 10 per cent of new COVID-19 admissions.

Peopled aged 30-39 account for roughly another 10 percent of admissions and patients aged 40-49 account for just over 11 per cent.

NEARLY HALF OF COVID-19 PATIENTS AREN'T TESTING POSITIVE UNTIL AFTER ADMISSION TO HOSPITAL

Another trend highlighted in the data is that many people seriously ill with COVID-19 may not be aware of their status. According to the provincial government's data, just over 48 per cent of COVID-19 admissions had their first positive test on or after admission to hospital.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) ended most symptom-free COVID-19 testing in late September. Although they are not considered as accurate as the PCR tests administered by the SHA or private testing centres, the province has announced a plan to make rapid antigen self-test kits will be more widely available, although the rollout has encountered some apparent roadblocks.

CLOSE TO 70 PER CENT OF ALL ADMISSIONS ARE COMPLETELY UNVACCINATED

Also, according to the data as of the week of Oct. 12, 68 per cent of patients admitted to ​hospital have not received a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Just over 8 per cent were only partially vaccinated, according to the data.

"How can we accept this and in countries where we've had vaccines available for everyone since July, so again, you know, the fact that even the small proportion who remain unvaccinated are generating enough cases," Dr. Shahab said during Wednesday's teleconference with audible emotion in his voice.

"There are friends, family members who are getting sick and dying."​

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