The doctors are calling on the government to expand public health measures currently in place in Regina to the rest of the province, saying it has shown to be effective in other jurisdictions to decrease the number of cases and hospitalizations.
In the Regina zone, which has an increased risk of transmission and the highest number of active cases, more stringent measures are currently in place than in the rest of the province. Since March 24, private indoor gatherings have been restricted to immediate household members; restaurants and licensed establishments have been closed to indoor dining and most small event venues with a capacity of 30 people or less aren’t allowed to operate.
The province has also strongly recommended people in the area work from home if they can, and travel in and out of the area is discouraged unless absolutely necessary.
Dr. Ayisha Kurji, a Saskatoon pediatrician and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Saskatchewan, said doctors feel more needs to be done as case numbers across the province rise. She said consistency is important: when the rules are the same everywhere, they’re easier to follow because everyone has to do the same thing.
“We know that the variants are there in Regina; they’re not just there in Regina, it’s not just a Regina problem, it’s not just a southern Saskatchewan problem. It’s an everywhere problem,” she said.
Kurji said hospital capacity has to be protected and it’s already being stretched across the province. The numbers of people hospitalized and in intensive care with COVID-19 are seen as lagging indicators — those numbers start to increase about a couple of weeks after cases start to rise in the community. Increases in hospitalizations and people in ICUs are already happening, she added.
“We think it’s time to act, and time to start making changes.”
In response, Premier Scott Moe told media the government will consult with the province’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, over the next few days, noting the number of new COVID-19 cases was up “substantially.”
The province reported 358 new COVID-19 cases Friday, bringing the provincial total to 35,748.
Saskatchewan has now recorded 453 COVID-19 related deaths, with six more deaths reported. As of Friday, 206 people were hospitalized, including 43 people in intensive care, the majority (25) in Regina.
The province also reported the highest daily number of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered, an additional 11,634. The total number of vaccines administered in Saskatchewan is 256,280.
“If there are additional measures that need to be looked at in other areas of Saskatchewan, we will take Dr. Shahab’s advice with respect to that. We would hope that we’ll be able to manage through this, but we do have to ensure that we are ensuring the safety of Saskatchewan people,” Moe said.
There are 3,000 physicians in the province and “significant” measures in place, Moe said, adding that the government is taking the recommendations in the letter “under guidance” as part of the decision-making process.
Opposition NDP Leader Ryan Meili called Friday a “very disappointing” day for Saskatchewan, given the rise in new cases and deaths due to COVID-19 and flat employment numbers. He said it’s frustrating because it was “predictable and avoidable.” Meili said the increase in case numbers is concerning.
“What I think we’re going to see is what we’ve seen throughout, is that the premier will eventually bring in measures when it’s too late, and that’s what he’s done over and over again. He waits until he can’t possibly avoid doing something instead of doing it early when it’ll actually work,” Meili said.
Meili said the province should have already expanded measures in Moose Jaw and Weyburn and should be looking to expand measures around the province, at the very least in the hardest-hit areas. He added the doctors’ letter gives a pretty good outline of the things that need to be done.
The letter also calls on the province to provide immediate economic support for people whose livelihoods are affected, and paid sick time for essential services workers.
Kuriji said when people don’t have access to support when they need to take time off, they’re more likely to feel they have to go to work to pay for rent and food. There are people who work when they’re sick because they can’t afford to take time off to be tested and to isolate.
She said front-line workers are among the groups in which the virus is spreading now, through workplaces.
The doctors also want the province to expand the provincial vaccine rollout to follow the National Advisory Committee on Immunizations’ guidelines to include all health-care workers, all essential service workers such as teachers, early childhood educators, other front-line workers and people at higher risk due to socio-economic factors, as well as already-included medical risk factors.
“We are all tired of this virus. We all want it to end. Vaccinations are the light at the end of the tunnel, but we are not close enough to the end to rely solely on them,” the letter states.
“We can save livelihoods, we can save our health-care system, we can save lives. If we act now, if we act seriously and quickly, we can beat COVID-19 in Saskatchewan. We count on you to do what is right.”
DAILY COVID-19 REPORT
New cases: New COVID-19 cases were reported in the far north west (6), north west (30), north central (14), north east (7), Saskatoon (64), central west (3), central east (19), Regina (108), south west (4), south central (8), and south east (63) zones, with 32 cases pending residence information. One case previously pending residence information has been assigned to the north west zone and 14 Saskatchewan residents tested out-of-province have been added to the north west zone.
The seven-day average is of daily new cases is 242 or 19.7 new cases per 100,000 people. On April 8, 3,914 COVID-19 tests were processed, bringing the total number to date to 697,515.
Variants of concern: As of Thursday, variants of concern identified by screening in the province have been reported in the far north west (2), far north east (4), north west (7), north central (24), Saskatoon (189), central west (13), central east (71), Regina (2,189), south west (19), south central (266), and south east (283) zones, and residence is pending for 19 cases.
Deaths: One person in the 40-49 age group, four people in the 70-79 age group and one person in the over 80 age group in Regina have died. One person in the 70-79 age group in Saskatoon and one person in the 70-79 age group in the south east zone have died.
Hospitalizations: Of the 206 people in hospital, 163 are receiving in-patient care: far north west (2), far north east (1), north west (5), north central (3), north east (1), Saskatoon (42), central east (14), Regina (82), south central (3) and south east (10); 43 people are in intensive care: north central (5), Saskatoon (7), central east (3), Regina (25) and south central (3).
Vaccinations: 11,634 COVID-19 vaccine doses were reported. They were administered in: far north west (370), far north central (1), far north east (171), north west (835), north central (987), north east (977), Saskatoon (3,328), central west (244), central east (782), Regina (1,716), south west (464), south central (685) and south east (783). Zone of residence information is pending for 291 doses.
-With Leader-Post files from Arthur White-Crummey