SASKATOON -- The president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) says the province is at a breaking point with the highest COVID-19 cases per capita and shrinking availability of ICU beds.

SUN president Tracy Zambory said provincial leaders need to do more to make sure the public complies with the current public health orders, but the public also needs to understand that compliance across the board is what’s needed for the health orders to work. 

“Public compliance is a critical point. It must happen and if we’re not seeing public compliance, that’s where strong leadership has to come in and has to impose stronger restrictions,” Zambory said. “We’re going to be at a point where we have no choice but to impose stronger measures.”

This week Saskatchewan continues to lead the country in the number of COVID-19 cases per capita with 354 cases per 100,000 people, according to Health Canada. Alberta is second, with 254 cases per 100,000. Looking at Canada as a whole, the rate of active cases currently sits at 189 cases per 100,000.

Zambory said Saskatchewan is also falling behind with testing for the virus, which means the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) is not getting a clear picture of how active the virus is in the province. 

“We need to understand how active COVID is and the potential variants that are out there now. Saskatchewan will not be immune to those variants,” she said. 

On Jan. 20, the SHA reported 2,559 tests were performed in Saskatchewan. 

While testing has dropped off, new cases continue to jump between 200-300 per day, and the number of deaths and hospitalizations have risen. Zambory said ICU beds continue to be at 95 per cent capacity and the longer this continues the more people will die. 

“When we have such little capacity in the ICU it means there’s potential for more people to die, potential for death is far more imminent had the system not had as much pressure on it,” she said.

The greatest fear, Zambory said, is that with reports of a rise in new infections, deaths and hospitalizations, after hearing them for a while, the public will normalize these numbers.

“When the public hears those numbers, they don’t mean anything, and we can’t have that. This is a very serious situation.”

Tamara Hinz is a child and adolescent psychiatrist working in the province. She said it’s likely these numbers are already being normalized. Earlier in the pandemic when the province announced dozens of new cases, it was shocking, Hinz said.

Now when there’s a new case number and we’re under 300, there’s almost an aura of relief that it’s not worse, she said. 

“It’s crazy how it becomes normalized.”

Hinz said she was a little surprised to see no new restrictions coming from Premier Scott Moe on Tuesday. She said she believes without tougher restrictions the province may be prolonging the length of the pandemic. 

Zambory agrees, saying the first lockdown in 2020 happened when cases, deaths and hospitalization were nowhere near the number being seen today. 

“When we did the shutdown we were very concerned when we had 10 cases, everybody was up in arms and we slammed the door shut on everything. Now that we’re the highest (per capita) in Canada there seems to be reluctance to take strong leadership and do what needs to be done and the frontline is feeling the pressure,” she said. 

On Tuesday, Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said the province has issued warnings and fines to businesses not complying with the public health orders, adding universal compliance is needed to bring Saskatchewan’s case numbers down.

Hinz said there’s a growing level of frustration from people who are strictly following the rules and watching new infection numbers consistently climb. 

“It’s like the world’s biggest group project and when you’re doing your part of the work and you have people in your group who are slacking it’s frustrating,” she said. 

On Wednesday the SHA reported 234 new cases of COVID-19 and four more deaths.