Omicron: Sask. doctors told to brace for 'toughest' COVID-19 wave yet
The Saskatchewan Health Authority expects an overwhelming acute care surge due to the Omicron COVID-19 variant.
"Current state is an emergency. Public health currently overwhelmed and acute care will be soon," according to a slide presentation by Medical Health Officer Dr. Johnmark Opondo at a virtual physician's town hall event on Thursday.
The presentation said the disease is "circulating widely and everyone is at risk."
Saskatchewan's daily case counts are high due to the highly transmissible Omicron strain; both provincial and Public Health Agency of Canada modelling suggest sheer volumes will push hospitalization to extremely high levels, the presentation said.
Saskatchewan has the second-highest case rate among the provinces, though with fewer people receiving PCR tests and with those who are testing more likely to be infected, it's difficult to interpret case rates, he said.
Surveillance efforts are challenged and most likely the picture is worse than what the figures show, the presentation said.
"Public health teams are currently drowning; acute care hospitalizations are rising. Perfect storm of population mixing, low immunization coverage, high background transmission rates, human resource exhaustion."
Long-term care cases are around seven times higher this week compared to last week and outbreaks in long-term and personal care homes are at their highest levels to date, with high staff unplanned absence.
"All health sector actors are encouraged to adopt a proactive response stance as we plan for an unprecedented case surge, accompanied with staffing challenges," the presentation said, predicting the "toughest wave in Saskatchewan yet."
Opondo's presentation said people shouldn't mix and socialize broadly, even if they can. Most cases will be undiagnosed and everyone is at risk for infection, he said.
He also noted that Omicron re-infects; being infected in 2021 doesn’t protect someone in 2022. Omicron is a disease that requires three doses of vaccine - but so far only 47 per cent of Saskatchewan adults have had their booster, according to the presentation.
COVID-19 incidence rates in the vaccinated and unvaccinated are similar, but COVID-19 hospitalization rates are higher in the unvaccinated compared to the vaccinated, the presentation said.
In a later presentation, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Froh said patient care is currently "challenged" with minimal service disruption.
However, under a slide titled "Omicron Rising," he said non-ICU cases will exceed all prior peaks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"ICU cases rapidly rising. Current slope of exponential increase in hospital census is not sustainable," the slide said.
"Under current restrictions, Omicron will dangerously strain our acute care system. Left further unchecked Omicron will overwhelm it."
It’s something Dr. Dennis Kendel, a physician and public health consultant, said isn't being reflected in the province’s latest restrictions.
“It just struck me that it’s so discordant with the message that we heard from the Minister of Health the previous day which more or less leads people to believe we’re sort of exiting from this whole process, it’s on the downslope and that is not true.”
Effective Friday, the province loosened isolation rules so that all cases must only isolate for five days regardless of vaccination status and close contacts no longer have to isolate.
In addition, parents and caregivers are no longer required to report COVID-19 cases in kids to schools.
"This revision to the public health order supports a self-management approach to COVID-19," the province said in the update.
"Changes that support a self-management approach need to balance any risk of community transmission with continuity for families, individuals and businesses. By reducing the burden of self-isolation for cases and contacts, it is expected to increase adherence to public health orders."
Kendel said the provincial government needs to be more proactive and not just rely on hospitalization numbers as an indicator for where cases are going.
“When you have the experts telling you that looking ahead is scary because we may not have enough capacity, government should be listening to that and not diminishing our public health measures like shortening isolation periods.”
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