COVID-19: Saskatchewan sees record-high case numbers in September, leaders rely on vaccines

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As Saskatchewan recorded a record-high number of new cases on Sept. 30, Premier Scott Moe doubled down on his health minister’s comments that vaccinations were the answer to dealing with high infection rates.

September saw 12,950 COVID-19 cases reported. A total of 92 residents who tested positive for COVID-19 also died in September.

Despite urgent calls from health-care workers for more restrictions to ease the health-care burden heading into the holidays, further mandates will not be put into place.

Read more: ‘Extraordinary measures’ needed to fight COVID-19 in Alberta, Saskatchewan

“Public health measures always have been and should be some of the last tools that we utilize out of the toolbox,” Moe said at a press conference on Thursday.

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Moe echoed the words of Merriman, saying the onus is on unvaccinated people to take a sober second thought about their decision not to get the shot. The first week of October is when many vaccine mandates come into full effect.

Moe anticipates a “transition phase” and despite a lack of public health penalties so far, he said he trusts the mandate will be enforced.

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“Local law enforcement officers (and) public health officers will manage their way through those individual cases like they have most recently in the federal campaign right here in Saskatoon,” Moe said.

The premier adds for the 30 per cent of Saskatchewanians who remain unvaccinated, things will become more difficult starting in October. He doubled down on the health minister’s message, saying the province is now relying solely on vaccination to lessen the burden on Saskatchewan’s health-care system.

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Moe said the challenge today is the “inordinate number” of unvaccinated patients in hospital.

Moe added while it is an individual’s right to choose to be vaccinated or not, that choice affects other people.

“There are people that have heart attacks each and every day in this province. There’s people that are in car accidents or people that are waiting and having cancer surgery every day. They need access to an ICU bed,” Moe said.

The premier also spoke about a phone conversation he had with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday.

Read more: Ottawa ready to help Saskatchewan fight COVID-19, Trudeau reiterates

Moe said the two talked about several topics; how the provincial and federal government can work together to boost vaccination rates, the need for rapid tests provided by Public Health Canada, the opportunity to look at what early intervention treatments may be available to the province, and what human resources the federal government can spare to help out in hospitals.

“We had a very specific ask around, for example, critical care nurses, respirologists,” Moe said.

“Very specific and highly-trained individuals that could support us in our ICU capacity here in the province.”

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Moe said the Saskatchewan Health Authority is putting a list together of resources to submit to the federal government.

At a COVID-19 briefing on Friday, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the federal government has not received an official request for assistance yet from Saskatchewan.

Read more: Saskatchewan woman’s kidney surgery delayed because of COVID-19

Hajdu said she did have a conversation with Merriman about what the province will likely ask for.

“We do know that (Merriman) asked, for example, for additional monoclonal antibodies and they have some already. So we’re working on the details of what the further need might be,” Hajdu told reporters.

“Certainly, a request for assistance will help clarify more quickly exactly what the province is looking for and how we can best help them meet those needs,” Hajdu added.

Global News has reached out to the Saskatchewan government about whether or not a formal request has since been made. This article will be updated once a response is available.

Moe believes the proof of vaccination or negative test policy which came into place Friday morning will help boost vaccination numbers.

Read more: Rally at Saskatchewan legislature calls on Moe, Merriman to take action

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Two vigils are being planned for Friday evening in Regina and Saskatoon.

The events are organized by the Concerned Citizens for COVID Action group.

Theresa MacKinnon, a retired public health nurse and organizer, says since coming together at the beginning of September, the Facebook group has gained over 480 members.

MacKinnon told Global News the vigils tonight were planned to share concern and “mourn the situation.”

“It’s unacceptable that our provincial government has not instituted more measures and strategies to control the transmission of COVID in Saskatchewan,” MacKinnon said.

The group says they are gathering to pressure the government to take a number of actions, including releasing modelling data, implementing a vaccine mandate for all professions — not just government employees — and putting a “quasi-lockdown” into place.

Both events will start at 5:30 p.m. Saskatoon’s event will take place at Merriman’s constituency office and Regina’s event will take place at the legislature building.

Attendees are asked to wear masks and physically distance, and bring signs, candles and lights.

— with files from Emily Olsen

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