'Full-blown crisis': Sask. doctors' association calls for gathering limits to fight COVID-19
Indoor gathering limits for private and public events must be implemented immediately as a public health order, according to the Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA).
“We need more action now to lessen the harm Saskatchewan citizens are experiencing from COVID-19, as well as the trauma felt by those working in our health-care system,” SMA president Dr. Eben Strydom said in a news release.
The group’s proclamation comes in the wake of the news that Saskatchewan has been transferring patients to Ontario.
“The transfer of critically ill patients out of Saskatchewan to Ontario is a clear sign that our health system can’t cope,” Strydom said.
“This is not a medical challenge – it is a full-blown crisis that will only get worse as COVID-19 cases continue to jeopardize our ability to care for all Saskatchewan patients, even those who aren’t suffering from a COVID illness.”
The SMA and the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) called for additional public health measures to blunt the fourth wave of the pandemic on Sept. 29.
At that time, the health system was already the pausing elective surgeries and suspending the province’s organ donation program to manage the strain from the pandemic, according to the SMA.
Modelling data shows ICU cases potentially doubling to 200 by Jan. 1, 2022 without additional public health measures and if people don’t immediately limit their contacts, Strydom said.
He said the government’s present course is based on a mistaken belief that restrictions penalize the vaccinated.
“No one is penalized by public health measures that protect people and safeguard the viability of the health system, which is now strained beyond capacity.
“In fact, it’s the opposite. A lack of additional measures, which have proven effective during previous waves of the pandemic, puts people at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, puts further pressure on the health system, and jeopardizes the care of all patients in Saskatchewan.”
He said the province needs to be vigilant for up to four weeks until cases decrease to 10 per 100,000 people from the present 26 per 100,000 people, and ICU numbers drop substantially.
Canadian Medical Association President Dr. Katharine Smart also called for action.
"As a proud Saskatchewan doctor now living in the North, I urge Premier Scott Moe to adopt the following priorities. We urge the provincial government to increase vaccination rates through mandatory vaccination in health care settings; immediately institute circuit breakers; and seek help from other jurisdictions to provide additional support for workers and patients in need," she said in a news release.
"We have come too far for too long to allow this situation to continue. As we’ve said before, it is time for courageous action and a focus on collaboration. The people of Saskatchewan deserve better."
Premier Scott Moe said earlier this week that mandated limits on gathering sizes remain off the table.
“At the end of the day, we do not want to implement these very blunt public health measures across the vast majority of Saskatchewan residents,” Moe told CTV News.
“The vast majority of Saskatchewan people have gone out and done the right thing.”
As of Wednesday, 323 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the province, including 82 in ICU.
Epidemiologist Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine says people need clear guidance when it comes to following COVID-19 measures.
He says COVID-19 progressions show it took more than three months to flatten the third wave. Given the Delta variant is twice as transmissible and 50 per cent more deadly, Muhajarine says it could take more than four months to bring down the fourth wave.
“Hopefully that normalcy will be closer to what we had before March 2020,” Muhajarine said.
Muhajarine also notes that modeling shows ICUs could become overrun again in December if the mask mandate and proof of vaccine requirements are lifted too soon.
Third, Muhajarine says modeling shows the risk of being infected, hospitalized or admitted into ICU care greatly increases for those who are unvaccinated compared to those who are vaccinated.
“The risk of being identified as a COVID-19 case is six times more among the unvaccinated compared to being fully vaccinated,” he said.
Unvaccinated people are 13 times more likely to be hospitalized and 28 times more likely to be admitted into the ICU, according to Muhajarine.
“If you’re unvaccinated, I would say you really shouldn’t be mixing with anybody,” Muhajarine said.
Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, recommends residents reduce their number of close contacts and urges people to get vaccinated.
“We can blame lack of public health orders and lack of government action, and that may be true to an extent. But, ultimately it is up to all of us,” Shahab said.
“Even in the presence of public health orders, the level of compliance needs to be extremely high at the household level.”
With files from Allison Bamford