The Saskatchewan government said Friday it is enacting a public health order requiring anyone in Saskatchewan testing positive for COVID-19 to self-isolate for 10 days after receiving a positive test result.
The province said unvaccinated close contacts of anyone testing positive for COVID-19 are also required to self-isolate.
The measures were announced as the province reported 432 new COVID cases on Friday — the second-highest daily total since the pandemic started. The highest daily total was on Nov. 20, 2020, when 441 new cases were reported.
The new self-isolation measure does not apply to fully vaccinated individuals identified as close contacts. However, they are required to self-monitor and seek testing at the first sign of COVID-19 symptoms.
Premier Scott Moe said the self-isolation order is the impact of people not getting vaccinated.
He said the policy is “an incentive for people to re-assess their decision (to get vaccinated) if they have not done so already, about going out and taking one of the highly accessible vaccines.”
He said not getting vaccinated increases the risk of contracting COVID-19 and experiencing severe outcomes.
“But your decision to not get vaccinated is no longer just impacting yourself,” Moe said during a briefing Friday.
“By choosing to not get vaccinated, you are increasing the risk to those who don’t have a choice, for example, our children under the age of 12.”
Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili called Moe’s response to the current COVID-19 situation in the province “embarrassing, infuriating and deeply sad.”
Meili said the province has no serious public health orders to deal with the rise in cases and that didn’t change with today’s announcement from the province.
“The term that comes to mind is ‘too little, too late.’ That doesn’t even apply today,” Meili said. “Too little, too late is what we saw in the second wave.
“This doesn’t even qualify for too little too late because he’s doing absolutely nothing at all. He has chosen to give up on Saskatchewan people. He has given up.”
He said Moe is ignoring all advice from medical health officers and the province’s chief medical health officer to, at least bring, in a provincewide mask mandate.
“All Saskatchewan’s MHOs put out a letter with a very clear description of what needs to be done, the things that need to be done for us to actually live with COVID — masks and ventilation in our schools, indoor masking throughout the province,” Meili said.
“If we have a massive wave of COVID-19, we should be wearing masks. That’s the appropriate measure at the appropriate time.”
At his briefing, Moe said masks have become normalized for the most part and people will make the choice to wear masks.
“And I think you’re seeing that,” he said.
“I carry one with myself as well and I do put it on when I feel it is necessary. As we move forward that the recommendations around masking remain the same.”
Moe said there are a number of other recommendations from Friday’s announcement that are addressing the most effective tool to reduce COVID cases — vaccinations.
“It is going to be increasingly more uncomfortable not to be unvaccinated in this province,” he said.
Moe said the strain on the province’s health-care system by unvaccinated people is filling up intensive care beds and burdening health-care workers.
“That is the reality of the choice that the unvaccinated has faced this province with,” Moe said.
“It puts our government in a position of expanding capacity in our health-care system to deal with a surge in both cases of increased severity and increased symptoms almost entirely … in unvaccinated individuals.”
Infectious disease physician Dr. Alex Wong told Global News the order is a meaningful step that will likely encourage more people to get vaccinated, but he also said he wanted stronger action instead of just relying on vaccines.
“Every jurisdiction in the developed world that has tried to rely only on vaccine with Delta has failed,” he said, with the exception of the (United Kingdom), which has a higher vaccination rate.
“It’s frustrating to not hear more aggressive measures being put in place to help protect our hospital capacity or ICU capacity and frankly, our schools.”
He said Saskatchewan’s situation will likely soon look similar to Florida. He said the state has a similar vaccination rate, with a slightly older population, “and they’re getting crushed as we speak.”
The government said non-critical or elective services will be reduced to address the pressures the health-care system currently faces.
The province said the service reductions are necessary to create capacity for acute or urgent services.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) said it will offset the reduced capacity by purchasing roughly 8,500 MRI and CT scans from private providers and increasing volumes at smaller hospitals.
Global News asked SHA CEO Scott Livingstone, who was also at the press conference, why the province is working to boost hospital capacity instead of taking proactive, preventative action to stop the spread.
“We, (and) anybody in this world, to my mind, have not been proactive with this virus,” he said.
“We can’t be. It changes. We live every two weeks with changes.”
In public health, prevention is always the number one priority,” Wong said.
“Prevention is always a more cost-effective… strategy than trying to mitigate after you haven’t prevented something.
Wong said that was the point of a joint letter from the province’s medical health officers several weeks ago, which called upon the government to implement a mask mandate and vaccine mandate for government and municipal employees, anyone who comes into contact with school-aged children and health-care workers.
The health authority said it is working with health unions to reach a renewed agreement on greater scheduling flexibility which would also allow placement of health-care workers in areas with surges in COVID-19 cases.
Moe said his government is prepared to sign an emergency order if an agreement is not reached by Sept. 13.
“In July alone, for example, we saw over 17,000 shifts go unfilled in our health-care facilities across the province,” he said.
“We have to ensure that the (SHA) has the ability to place staff in our most critical areas and be responsive to emerging needs that arise each and every day.”
Meili said health-care workers are “burning out.”
“We have a situation where hospitals are being overwhelmed, where people are dying, and he has simple things that he can do,” he said.
“Requiring vaccination for large public events, requiring vaccination for certain professions, the folks that work for him in the public service, folks in health care and in our schools. These are simple measures that will save lives.”
Wong warned Saskatchewan’s health-care system will be overwhelmed unless the province institutes stronger measures than those announced on Friday.
“Nobody should be in a situation in this province where we have to make decisions around who gets subpar care or who doesn’t get care or who is going to access lifesaving care versus who’s not going to get lifesaving care.”
Another measure announced Friday is ramping up the contact tracing workforce by recruiting private resources.
Testing capacity is being expanded and Moe said this will be provided by third-party providers to preserve capacity in the health system.
“This will also ensure our health-care workers are able to stay at the front lines where they are most needed,” he said.
Moe said further rapid testing resources will be made available to more people in the province and an additional one million rapid antigen tests have been secured from the federal government.
The province said this will preserve SHA testing centre and lab capacity for those who are symptomatic or close contacts and who need a PCR test result quickly.
Saskatchewan is also expanding its booster program.
Booster doses started this week in long-term care homes and for immunocompromised individuals.
Starting in October, the province said COVID-19 booster shots will be available to seniors and will expand over the winter to the rest of the public.
Details of the booster program will be released in the coming weeks, but is contingent on vaccine allocations from the federal government, the province added.
–With files from Nathaniel DoveView link »