Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has rejected calls to re-impose gathering restrictions in the province.
Moe said he does not want to bring in the restrictions for the “vast” majority of the population who are vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We’re not going to be implementing broad-based restrictions on 80-some per cent of the population that has gone out and gotten their first shot,” he said during a briefing Thursday.
“The vast majority of Saskatchewan people have done the right thing, and we’re very resistant to the fact of imposing broad-based restrictions across society.”
Dr. Alex Wong, an infectious disease physician in Regina, called the proclamation “disappointing.”
He said he was hoping for additional public health guidelines to stop COVID-19 from spreading, especially ahead of the Thanksgiving long weekend.
“The health-care system has completely collapsed,” he told Global News.
“We just have no additional capacity to expand here in Regina or frankly and pretty much, I think, anywhere else at this point.”
He said the day’s announcement, of a new provincial command centre to hand the province’s pandemic response, really doesn’t change anything.
He told Global News he walked through Regina’s ICU just before the interview. He said everyone there looked almost defeated.
“You can’t take your good people and just grind them down like this and not and not do something that to me is just so incredibly disappointing.”
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SHA interim senior medical health officer Dr. Cory Neudorf, speaking in Saskatoon, pointed out health-care workers have been struggling with the emotional and physical toll of treating people with COVID, for more than 18 months.
Neudorf welcomed the coordination that Moe said the command centre will bring, but the doctor and epidemiologist also said stronger health measures sooner would have helped.
He said that’s especially true because the volume of infections and amount of community transmission take up many hospital beds and because the Delta variant keeps people in hospital longer.
“We can’t discharge (patients) as fast as they’re coming in,” he said.
“And, unfortunately, what’s creating bed space right now is deaths.”
He too warned the upcoming holiday could spread the virus if people meet. He said the government should tell people to reduce their travel.
“It’s hard to turn away family, but this is not the time to be mixing immunized and unimmunized population,” he told Global News.
Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili has called for limitations on gatherings until COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations stabilize.
“We are one of two provinces without gathering restrictions leading into this Thanksgiving long weekend,” Meili said in a statement after Moe’s briefing.
“Scott Moe and Jason Kenney put politics above people’s health. It did not have to be this way.”
The City of Saskatoon, the Saskatchewan Medical Association and the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses have also asked the province to restrict gathering sizes.
On Thursday, Saskatchewan reported 650 new COVID-19 cases — the highest one-day total in the province since the start of the pandemic.
However, a note from the government said 241 of the confirmed cases date back to Sept. 22 and had previously not been entered in the provincial database.
The province also reported four new deaths on Thursday, raising the death toll to 737.
Meili said one in seven deaths in Saskatchewan since the start of the pandemic has occurred in the last month.
He said it was preventable.
“Saskatchewan leads all provinces in COVID case rates and death rates,” Meili said.
“Scott Moe needed to ask for federal supports weeks ago and should have implemented evidence-based public health measures to protect Saskatchewan families this weekend. He should have announced this today.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to provide any support necessary to help Saskatchewan with its COVID-19 crisis.
Trudeau and Moe spoke on Sept. 29 about cases in the province, increasing vaccination efforts and what the province needs to overcome the fourth wave of the pandemic.
On Thursday, Moe didn’t rule out asking the federal government for aid in the coming days, but added he is realistic as to what can be provided.
“In Alberta, the provisions that (the federal government) provided … made a total difference of about eight ICU beds on a per capita basis. That would be about two ICU beds in Saskatchewan,” Moe said.
“Does it make a difference? Yes, but we’re realistic about the scope of what that difference is and what we’re facing here and what we do require in the way of very specialized human resources in our ICU departments.”
He also blamed the surge in cases, record-breaking hospitalization rates and surgery delays on people who are not getting vaccinated.
Both Neudorf and Wong said the health-care system will need help from outside the province, and will need it very, very soon.
“One way or another, we have to find more health care workers to staff those beds,” Neudorf said.
“We’re going to need to ask for help in terms of the staffing from other places,” Wong said, telling Global News the health-care system has “collapsed.”
The province reported Thursday that 76.4 per cent of patients in hospital were not fully vaccinated.
“Seventy-five to 80 per cent of our hospitalizations are people that are unvaccinated,” Moe said.
“They’re tying up health-care services that other folks may need for other reasons.”
Moe, however, did not completely rule out bringing in new measures.
“I would say that nothing is ever off the table as we find our way through what is now the fourth wave of COVID-19,” he said.
“There’s no decisions that would ever be not on the table, so to speak.”
Neudorf said the province needs to be proactive.
“It’s not enough to look at responding to the crisis that’s immediately in front of you,” he said.
An effective response involved “doing those things necessary to stop that flow of patients from continuing to come in over the next two months.”
He said many people who aren’t vaccinated are struggling with misinformation.
“This is not an experimental vaccine anymore. We’ve had so many hundreds of millions of doses delivered across the globe, and it’s working.”