Provincial hospitals could soon be overwhelmed with patients suffering severe effects of COVID-19, according to preliminary projections outlined in a leaked Saskatchewan Health Authority document. The document includes a death toll of 15,000 in a worst-case scenario.
“In all modelling scenarios, the COVID-19 pandemic will have a significant impact on acute care health service delivery across the province,” the document said.
Titled COVID-19 Planning: Strategy for Continuity of Health Services and Surge Capacity, the plan summarizes a range of impacts the virus could have on the province’s health care system.
“This was a draft document based on early modelling and worst-case scenarios,” SHA responded to Global News via email. “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.”
The document also states, “demand for acute services will exceed existing capacity for hospital beds, ICU beds, ventilators as well as creating a major burden on other acute services, supports, HR, supplies and equipment.”
To meet the demand, SHA listed a number of measures required including increasing acute care capacity while maintaining non-pandemic related services – all while protecting the physical and mental health of frontline workers.
The internal projections estimate about 300,000 people — about 30 per cent of the population — will be infected by COVID-19. Of that, 15,000 people are expected to require ICU.
Currently, Saskatchewan has 109 ICU beds province-wide.
On Tuesday, SHA announced it is expanding capacity in hopes to meet the future demand of COVID-19 – part one its strategy to “contain, delay and mitigate” the virus.
“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,” said Scott Livingstone, SHA CEO.
“Demand will exceed capacity. All jurisdictions are facing this challenge. We are not alone. We are acting immediately to ensure Saskatchewan residents get the care they need from the right provider, at the right time, with the right supports in place.”
To create additional capacity, SHA said it is dedicating additional spaces within its facilities and creating designated hospitals in Saskatoon and Regina and other parts of the province.
It is also establishing additional community-based acute care capacity through field hospitals including school gyms, community centres and rinks.
“This plan will ensure we are prepared,” Livingstone said. “But it won’t be enough; it has been proven over and over with this virus that no health system in the world can address this challenge alone without the sustained help of the general public.
“That is why we are stepping up actions on an ongoing basis to do our part in ensuring the safety of Saskatchewan people.”
SHA’s update on Tuesday, came after identifying a three-stage operational plan that was outlined in the leaked document.
The first stage includes cancelling elective procedures, postponing non-urgent surgery and closing patient clinics.
Stage two called for an increase in capacity for COVID-19 care which includes repurposing space in existing facilities and possibly turning community centres into temporary care spaces – expected to last two to six weeks.
Stage three would focus on isolation and containing COVID-19 through continued screening and testing.
The province also revealed on Tuesday it has created an Emergency Operations Centre along with Integrated Health Incident Command Centres for all SHA service areas – Saskatoon, Regina, rural and northern Saskatchewan.
These centres will be accountable for “finalizing and deploying the continuity of services and surge capacity plans on a local level. “
“We strongly urge every resident in Saskatchewan to abide by the restrictions, guidelines and orders enacted by the Government of Saskatchewan, and help our province slow the rate of transmission of this virus,” said Dr. Susan Shaw, SHA chief medical officer.
“The success of preventive measures will have a direct impact on health system demand for hospital care. The actions of the public will help save lives and ensure our health system is there for when you need it, regardless of the circumstance.”
SHA also reported that Saskatoon would see an “exponential growth” of COVID-19 and will need to increase capacity to provide ventilatory support to “nearly 500-600 patients daily” at peak demand.
The leaked document says Saskatoon’s death rate will be consistent with other parts of the world.
It also notes that “early social distancing will delay and lessen the peak of the outbreak.”
The document refers to projections that appear to be based on situation reports from March 19 and March 20, 2020.
Responding to the revelations in the leaked document, Saskatchewan NDP leader Ryan Meili said the government should better communicate the risks, so the public is well educated about what they’re facing.
“I think the government should be sharing all of the information they have,” Meili said. “If they have modelling of what’s likely to happen under different scenarios that’s something the public should see, and we should have all of that information clearly in front of us.”
COVID-19 has already started to affect hospitals in some regions of the country. In Quebec, officials said on Tuesday that there were already 67 patients in hospital, including 31 in intensive care.
Some physicians in Toronto have also been warning on social media that they are seeing signs in their emergency rooms that the number of infected patients is likely higher than the official numbers released by provinces.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
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