How has Saskatchewan handled COVID-19 since restrictions lifted?

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WATCH: It's now been more than two weeks since all remaining COVID-19 restrictions were lifted in Saskatchewan. Taz Dhaliwal takes a look at cases and vaccination numbers to find out what kinds of trends we're seeing in this early post restrictions stage. – Jul 27, 2021

It has been over two weeks since Saskatchewan‘s COVID-19 public health measures were lifted on July 11.

Since then, the COVID-19 situation in the province has been relatively quiet, but the new case count continues to rise.

That’s from Dr. Alexander Wong, an infectious disease specialist based in Regina, who said the uptick in cases is predominantly driven by outbreaks in the far north region of Saskatchewan.

Wong said there is no way of knowing where the province goes moving forward from the current situation, however, he pointed to what’s happening in the United States with the Delta variant significantly affecting unvaccinated populations.

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“This leads to acute care strain and all kinds of problems, so we are certainly keeping our fingers crossed that we are not going to see that,” said Wong. “It’s hard to know at this point in time how bad it’s going to be (here), though.”

As of Tuesday, 74 per cent of residents 12 and older have received their first dose while 62 per cent of those 12-plus are fully vaccinated.

Read more: Saskatchewan ending COVID-19 mass vaccination sites, moving to outreach program

Wong said there’s hopefully only a small proportion of people who are very much against the idea of receiving a COVID-19 shot.

If that’s the case, he figures this leaves the province with two-thirds of unvaccinated individuals who are hesitant because they have questions about the vaccines such as safeness and efficacy.

He expects it will be extremely difficult for jurisdictions to reach vaccination targets without implementing additional measures to have unvaccinated residents finally roll up their sleeves.

“We need new strategies that are going to be targeted at local and community levels in order to try and figure out exactly where the pockets of unvaccinated individuals are,” Wong suggested.

“We need to educate, engage and make it available all at the same place at the same time in order to get better uptake, which is an extremely labour-intensive activity.”

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Read more: Lowest number of COVID-19 patients this year in Saskatchewan

Appropriate time for vaccine shift

On Monday, the provincial government announced the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) will transition its vaccination rollout to go from mass vaccination to focused outreach starting Aug. 8.

The government said in the statement that its new strategy will target those in the province who are under and unvaccinated.

Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine, epidemiologist and professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan, said now is the right time for the province to shift its COVID-19 vaccination delivery.

Muhajarine, who also serves as lead for public health, health systems and social policy for the COVID-19 Rapid Response Network (CoVaRR-Net), believes the switch from mass vaccination to the targeted outreach plan is a significant approach to boost vaccine rates before the fall.

“It’s about really bringing vaccines to where people work, play, watch sporting events and gather, so I think this is entirely appropriate,” noted Muhajarine.

Read more: Public health orders needed on Buffalo River Dene Nation to combat COVID-19, FSIN says

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He also thinks this will pay dividends in terms of improving vaccine rates for first and second doses, however, he acknowledged more needs to be done in the coming months.

“I think it is not just for a short period of time, but it is as long as it takes for us to get to that level of vaccine coverage, which is probably 85 per cent or better that we are aiming to get to,” he added.

“We’re still vulnerable out there and we can’t really relax thinking COVID is gone. We’re far from it.”

The shift will see walk-in clinics be set up at a number of public venues, including summer events, retail locations, powwows, provincial parks and recreation areas.

Pharmacies will continue to provide COVID-19 vaccinations by appointment.

—With files from David Giles

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