Sask. Health Authority document says COVID-19 could 'overwhelm' health system
Published Tuesday, March 24, 2020 12:57PM CST Last Updated Wednesday, March 25, 2020 11:00AM CST
SASKATOON -- An internal Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) document is providing a clearer sense of what the province's medical community expects as the number of COVID-19 cases rise — and paints a stark picture of what could happen if the virus remains unchecked
"In all modelling scenarios, the COVID-19 pandemic will have a significant impact on acute health care service delivery across the province," the COVID-19 planning document says.
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The document, obtained independently by CTV News, appears to be a PowerPoint presentation. It outlines potential scenarios healthcare providers could face as the virus extends its reach in Saskatchewan.
Based on models of how COVID-19 may spread, the document speculates demand for acute services could "exceed existing capacity for hospital beds, ICU beds, ventilators."
The effects of the virus could spill over into other areas of the health system, the document says, placing a "major burden" on other services as well as diminish supplies of medical equipment.
While the presentation lauds the "early" physical distancing measures taken in Saskatchewan it also theorizes that COVID-19 will "almost certainly overwhelm the health system."
One scenario shows 30 per cent of people in Saskatchewan becoming infected with COVID-19 with 15 per cent of those cases needing hospital care and five per cent being admitted to the ICU.
The document says three to five per cent of those who become infected could potentially die from the illness, which under the model of a 30 per cent infection rate.would translate to between 9,000 and 15,000 deaths.
When asked about document, SHA spokesperson Doug Dahl said in an email that it is a draft version based on early modelling and worst-case scenarios.
"Modelling is still being refined to ensure we have the best information about the additional capacity that will be needed to effectively manage COVID-19," Dahl said.
The SHA document also offers guidance on how to confront what could be an unprecedented strain on Saskatchewan's health care system.
Some steps mentioned have already been taken, such as cancelling elective procedures and the postponement of non-urgent surgery to free up resources and staff.
Other suggested measures include potentially preparing dedicated "COVID-19 hospitals" in Saskatoon and Regina and possibly setting up field hospitals in settings such as "gymnasiums, leased commercial space, community centres, etc."
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In a news release sent Tuesday afternoon, the SHA said work is underway to expand capacity to meet demand for future phases of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Based on what we know from other jurisdictions, it is critical we act immediately to expand acute care capacity to mitigate the impact of COVID-19,” SHA CEO Scott Livingstone said in the release.
“Demand will exceed capacity. All jurisdictions are facing this challenge."
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During a news conference in Regina Tuesday afternoon, Livingstone discussed the planning document, echoing Dahl's description off it as an exploration of a "worst-case" scenario.
"It's critical people understand that we've got to consider some of the worst-case scenarios when we're doing our planning," Livingstone said.
"Modelling from other jurisdictions suggests the virus can affect up to 30 per cent ot the population and can result in thousands of people requiring hospitalization."
Livingstone emphasized that the model used in the presentation did not take into account a number of steps that have been taken to "lower the curve" for COVID-19 in Saskatchewan.
Livingstone also said the SHA will be moving forward with some of the measures outlined in the planning document, such as the creation of designated COVID-19 hospitals in Saskatoon and Regina as well as expanding community-based acute care in other parts of the province through the creation of field hospitals.
"The pattern in other jurisdictions showed we need to do more," Livingstone said.