'We are losing the battle': As COVID-19 numbers surge, over 300 Sask. doctors sign letter calling for more action
SASKATOON -- A group of Saskatchewan doctors is urging the province to take further steps to curb the spread of COVID-19.
In an open letter addressed to Premier Scott Moe, newly appointed Health Minister Paul Merriman, and the province’s top medical official Dr. Saqib Shahab, more than 300 doctors are calling for “leadership” in the face of rising COVID-19 case numbers.
“Saskatoon ICUs are at 130 per cent capacity and are diverting patients. It is becoming increasingly clear to us, physicians from across Saskatchewan, that we are losing the battle against this virus,” the letter says.
“If more is not done to change our course we are confident that winter will bring overflowing hospitals, cancelled surgeries, overwhelmed healthcare providers, and needless deaths.”
Dr. Hassan Masri, a Saskatoon ICU physician, said the number of doctors who have signed the letter continues to grow. It started with 260 signatures and is now sitting at over 300.
“We don’t want to be in a situation where we are saying ‘boy, we don’t have enough beds’ or ‘we don’t have enough nurses,’ or ‘we don’t have enough doctors,’” Masri told CTV News.
On Wednesday, the province reported 112 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the active case count to 1,363. This comes after Saskatchewan marked its highest single-day increase on Monday with 190 new infections.
The doctors ask Moe’s newly-elected government to look to other jurisdictions like Atlantic Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Korea for examples of “successful interventions” to help stop the surge in COVID-19 numbers.
“A common thread in each successful region and country is the clear and consistent leadership and communication of an empathetic government guided by a solid foundation of science and expert medical opinion,” the letter says.
“Both action and inaction will be criticized. We humbly ask you to act with sufficient force to reverse the rising daily case counts while also detailing how and when we would escalate our interventions even further.”
Masri said the government has shown leadership in dealing with the pandemic, especially in the early stages, but now doctors want to see more.
“We’re asking for proactive measures, we’re asking for more aggressive measures, we’re asking for things to be ahead of the curve,” he said.
Masri said that could include making masks mandatory across Saskatchewan and closing down bars, nightclubs and bingo halls — places where a number of recent outbreaks have been declared.
He said the goal is to avoid another lockdown in the province.
“We don’t only care about our patients’ blood pressure and heart rate and kidney function, but rather we care about their mental health, we care about their happiness at home. We care about their ability to live a good and comfortable life. And so we care about the economy and we want the economy to remain open.”
In an emailed statement, Merriman responded to the letter saying “I would like to thank these dedicated physicians for their passion and engagement as Saskatchewan people continue to face the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Our government has been acting upon the advice and guidance of our top doctor, Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab. Dr. Shahab’s advice and the adherence of Saskatchewan people to that advice has been crucial as we work to protect our families and communities while keeping our economy strong throughout the pandemic,” Merriman said.
Infection takes physical, mental toll
David Samuel, a Saskatoon lawyer and marathon runner, had COVID-19 in July and said it took a huge toll on him both mentally and physically.
“Towards the end of a marathon or something, that type of impending death kind of feeling,” he said.
Samuel said he knew he had the virus well before he was even able to get tested as he noticed differences in his breathing and heart rate.
From his experience, Samuel said there are some things the government can improve on, such as having a way for people to get in contact with health officials online instead of just over the phone.
“An important idea throughout this coronavirus and the pandemic recovery is that humility fuels progress and that we’re going to have to acknowledge that it’s okay to be wrong,” he said.
Masri said he believes the province can turn this losing battle around if the government and doctors work together.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the people and the government of Saskatchewan are way more powerful than the virus.”