SASKATOON -- During a news conference announcing new COVID-19 restrictions, including mandatory mask use in many communities, a Saskatoon-based health official painted a stark picture of what she's seeing in hospitals in the city and made a personal plea to people in the province to take the fight against the coronavirus seriously.

"I can see what this virus is doing on our frontline. I see how tired staff are with having to manage the pressures that come with this virus," the Saskatchewan Health Authority's Chief Medical Health Officer Susan Shaw said.

Shaw began her remarks by saying she was not speaking as a health official, but as a physician who still takes shifts in intensive care units in the city's hospitals.

"I sit with the families of those who have been admitted to our intensive care units with COVID. They sit beside their loved ones, all of them suffering, some of them dying," said Shaw, who joined the news conference in Regina by phone.

"And they may never be truly face-to-face with each other ever again, because of a need to wear masks. They do so because it's the right thing to do. And that, to me, makes putting on a mask when you go to the grocery store seem not so hard."

Shaw pointed to an editorial she authored near the outset of the pandemic where she wrote "that our health system would be there for you, if you can be there for us."

"And that is still our commitment. But I worry now more than ever, about our collective commitment to keeping our health system from being overwhelmed," Shaw said.

Contact tracers are facing "verbal abuse" from members of the public, Shaw said.

"That, to me, especially toward people who are working so hard to help fight this virus," she said.

Shaw referenced "COVID fatigue," where as the pandemic stretches on, people stop following the pandemic precautions they've been following.

"I'm tired too. Our physicians and staff are also tired and yet we come to work to make sure the system is there for you when you need it," Shaw said.

"Increasingly, these days, we come to work seeing more and more patients that are suffering with COVID … we are forced to limit family and visitors into our buildings to reduce risk of sickness and death. And in the days ahead, I and my colleagues will have to tell more families that their loved one isn't going to make it."

Shaw said compared to what she is seeing in Saskatoon's hospitals as the number of COVID-19 cases surges, what's being asked of the public isn't so hard.

"When people come to the hospital, they often beg us to do everything you can. And now we are begging in return, do everything you can limit your bubble as small as possible. Wash your hands regularly comply with all the public health orders," Shaw said.

Shaw said wearing a mask is not a "political statement", but a scientific one.

"And it's a statement of love. If you're not willing to do it, when it's recommended, then I invite you to trade places or join me for those conversations with family members whose loved ones are so sick and are at risk and are dying," Shaw said.

"And we need you to do your part to protect those who are most vulnerable, and to ensure a system is always there for you when you need it."