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Sask. COVID-19 cases likely underreported due to drop in testing rates: health official

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During a speech delivered on Monday, Premier Scott Moe again pointed to the lower number of newly reported COVID-19 cases as a sign that the public health measures that are already in place are working.

It is a statistic Moe has lately seemed keen to highlight.

"Our case numbers are decreasing," Moe said during the Oct. 18 news conference where he announced the transfer of Saskatchewan ICU patients to Ontario to help provide relief for the province's overburdened health care system.

"They are starting to drop, the cases in the province," Moe said the next day in an interview with CTV News.

However, a senior medical official says that in order to understand what the number actually means, it's critical to also look at how many people are getting swabbed.

“We’re also seeing the number of tests that have been done over the last number of days have been going down very quickly as well, while test positivity has remained high,” Dr. Cory Neudorf told CTV News.

“That tells us fewer people are going out for testing."

Neudorf is a senior medical health officer with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA).

According to recently released SHA data, nearly half of people receiving treatment in hospital for COVID-19 were not tested prior to admission meaning the cases were undiagnosed — and unreported.

"Many people who end up testing positive in hospitals are testing positive because they got tested in hospital and that’s the first time they knew they had COVID,” Neudorf said.

Saskatchewan’s test positivity rate continues to trend north of 10 per cent, according to Neudorf.

Neudorf authored an Oct. 21 letter signed by 20 other medical health officers calling on Health Minister Paul Merriman to introduce limits on gathering sizes among other measures to try and reduce the strain on the province's health care system.

Moe has been consistent in his stance that no further measures are needed beyond the masking mandate and vaccination policy that are already in place in Saskatchewan.

One of the reasons Moe routinely cites for staying the course is the declining number of cases.

“I think what we are getting is almost an alternative reality, selective focus on certain pieces of information and data, rather than a whole focus or even focusing on data that really matters," said Nazeem Muhajarine, professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan.

According to SHA modelling released last week, without additional measures, ICU admissions could surge in the winter beyond what's already been seen in the province during the fourth wave.

“We’re not sure if we’re at that peak, we certainly know from the modelling that if no further restrictions are put in place this peak will be a very long peak," Neudorf said.

"We’ll be at this and the level of strain on the healthcare system for many weeks yet." 

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