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3,075 coronavirus deaths forecast for Saskatchewan in low-range scenario: SHA

WATCH: The Saskatchewan Health Authority provides a briefing on its COVID-19 modelling projections.

Modelling released by the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) suggests 3,075 people could die in the province from the novel coronavirus in a low-range scenario.

It’s one of three scenarios the SHA released on Wednesday.

SHA CEO Scott Livingstone cautioned the scenarios they released are not predictions of the future.

“It’s data that acts as a planning tool to ensure that we’re preparing for the worst but aiming for the best,” Livingstone said.

“What we do know at this point is that our health system strategy for COVID-19 has already paid dividends.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus safety rules should be mandated in Saskatchewan stores — retailers union

The SHA said in the low-range case scenario, 153,000 people in the province could be infected during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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A peak of 390 patients would be in hospital simultaneously, with 120 in intensive care, and 90 to 95 per cent requiring ventilation.

SHA releases COVID-19 planning projections
SHA releases COVID-19 planning projections

Livingstone said all three projections are based on current COVID-19 measures in the province, including testing, tracing and physical distancing.

“Our job as a health-care system is to provide care for those in need and to be ready for any scenario,” Livingstone said.

“While we understand Canadian data is starting to show some hopeful signs about flattening the curve on COVID-19, it is critical to remember not to be complacent.

“We need to continue to escalate our response to ensure we are prepared for the worst-case scenarios and we need the public to help us avoid those scenarios.”

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READ MORE: ‘A’ is for ‘Asymptomatic’ — a glossary of coronavirus terms

Under the mid-range scenario, total cumulative deaths are forecast at 5,260, with 262,000 total cases.

At its peak, 1,265 people would be hospitalized simultaneously, with 380 of those in intensive care.

Total deaths under the high-range scenario are estimated at 8,370, with 4,265 patients in hospital simultaneously, 1,280 of those in intensive care.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe called the high-range scenario “quite alarming.”

“I wake up each and every morning waiting for the new numbers to come in and just praying that there isn’t a death today,” Moe said.

“That’s what I do every morning.”

Moe said seeing the models strengthens his resolve to continue dealing with COVID-19 the way the province has so far to date, but additional measures may be put in place if warranted.

He said local measures could be put in place if there is an outbreak in a community that extends to more vulnerable populations in places such as long-term care homes and assisted-living facilities.

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“The health authority needs to be ready to address that wherever it may occur in the province,” Moe said.

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“That’s not to say (additional measures) may or may not occur province-wide but it most certainly is quite possible to occur in regional areas of the province.”

“We need to be prepared province-wide for the modelling that is here and the resources will be provided to the health authority to ensure that they do just that.”

As of Wednesday, there have been 271 confirmed cases in the province, with three COVID-19-related deaths.

Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province’s chief medical health officer, said the high-range scenario could have been a reality if no action had been taken.

“If we had just continued business as usual, right now we could have really been in the upslope of a really bad situation where the health system is not prepared,” Shahab said.

“The modelling gives us three projections: scenario one which is quite significant, scenario two which is kind of mid-range, scenario three which is quite positive.

“We want to be better than scenario three.”

Dr. Susan Shaw, the SHA’s chief medical officer, said it is currently unknown which scenario the province is tracking toward.

“We hope we are in that lower prediction, lower planning tool scenario, but it’s actually much too early to know,” Shaw said.

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“While we hope we are tracking on the low scenario, there are signals around the world, and including in Canada, that we have to be paying a lot of attention.

“So, too soon to know, but we do remain hopeful while still also planning for all what-if scenarios.”

Livingstone said there is no projection on when the province will see a peak in coronavirus cases or how long current measures will remain in place.

“At this point in time, we just don’t have an update that’s going to tell us exactly when we’re going to see that peak or how long,” he said.

“We believe the public health measures that are in place are making a large impact and if they continue to do so that will flatten the curve.”

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“It’s important for everyone to understand that the more you flatten the curve, the longer we stretch this out, and that’s intentional.”

Livingstone said doing so will help avoids peaks that have been seen in other countries, causing health care systems to be overwhelmed.

The health authority cautioned the modelling is not a prediction, but instead provides “what if” scenarios to guide planning.

Livingstone said the health authority is taking measures to deal with the next phase of the pandemic, including designating certain hospitals as COVID-19 hospitals and setting up field hospitals in Saskatoon and Regina.

“We wanted to be transparent with the plan going forward so the public is aware of the escalated measures we will put into place if needed,” Livingstone said.

“It is critical to remember that many of the changes proposed in this plan will be implemented only in response to anticipated surges in patient demand that start to exceed our capacity.”

READ MORE: One quarter of Canadians still not fully social distancing, poll suggests

The SHA has identified 20 of its 65 hospitals that would be designated as COVID-19 hospitals, but Livingstone said those will only be converted if needed.

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“Changes like conversion to COVID-19 dedicated hospitals will only occur where it is absolutely required to ensure safety and maintain access for patients who need our care,” he said.

Two field hospitals are proposed if demand exceeds facility-based capacity: 250 beds at Merlis Belcher Place in Saskatoon and 200 beds at Evraz Place in Regina.

Both would provide acute care to COVID-19 patients.

SHA modelling has line of defense, line of attack
SHA modelling has line of defense, line of attack

Health officials said 450 ventilators are available, which would meet the demand in the low and mid-range models.

There is a shortfall of 410 ventilators under the high-range scenario.

Officials said there are confirmed orders for 200 ventilators, with 100 expected to be delivered within the next two to three weeks.

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They added multiple orders for invasive and non-invasive ventilators have been placed and the Ministry of Health is working with vendors and the federal government to close the gap.

The SHA said people must continue measures such as social distancing, self-isolation and good hygiene to help flatten the curve.

“No health system in the world can manage this challenge without the sustained help of the general public,” Shaw said.

“To save lives, Saskatchewan residents need to do their best to stay healthy and strong and abide by the restrictions and guidelines for the general public around COVID-19.

“Demand will exceed our capacity as a health system if we are not diligent about these measures.”

The COVID-19 pandemic will continue for weeks and months to come, the SHA said, and the full picture or impact may not be fully understood until after it is over.

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

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.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.