During a technical briefing regarding COVID-19 in Saskatchewan on Wednesday, chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab got emotional.
Shahab was presenting modelling that shows Saskatchewan’s health care system is struggling under the demands of treating COVID-19.
He was in the middle of speaking about how individuals can take action when he started to cry.
“I have no shame in pleading to the public that we’ve gone so far and we just have to pull along for the next few weeks or months. It’s distressing to see what is happening in our ICUs and hospitals,” Shahab said, fighting back tears.
A reporter instead asked if the doctor was OK. A brief pause followed the reporter’s question.
“All the evidence is out there and it is very distressing to see unvaccinated, young (and) healthy people winding up in ICU and dying,” Shahab said.
Shahab added that he is only watching this from a distance but when talking about health-care worker burnout, he said it is frustrating to see young lives being lost to a disease that can be prevented by vaccines.
“How can we accept this in a country that has had vaccines available for everyone since July?” Shahab said.
“Apologies if I’m being a bit unprofessional.”
The modelling presented by Shahab shows COVID-19 ICU levels in Saskatchewan have reached an unsustainable level for the health-care system.
Without public health measures, the modelling projects that it could take more than four months to get back to sustainable levels in the ICU. The number of ICU patients is also projected to increase without further public health orders.
Currently, there are no gathering limits in place in Saskatchewan. A mask mandate is in place for public indoor buildings.
Shahab added if people reduce their contacts and get vaccinated if they are eligible over the next three to four weeks, hospitalization numbers will go down though it will take several weeks to see an impact.
The doctor also added that though daily case numbers have decreased, we still need to be cautious.
“It is still not a safe place. We have to bring our daily case numbers to as low as possible because with our capacity already exceeded in acute care, even a lower rate of hospitalizations to acute care and ICUs will continue to put pressure on the acute care system,” Shahab explained.
Shahab would not confirm if he has recommended the government put additional public health guidelines in place. He said it was up to the government to release that information.
Regardless of public health orders, Shahab recommended individuals reduce close contacts. He also said people should stay home even if they have mild symptoms and get tested.
In a statement to Global News, the Health Ministry said they have nothing further to add about whether or not Shahab has recommended further public health measures.
On Tuesday, Shahab confirmed he was named in an alleged email threat that was reported to the Regina Police Service.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe was also alleged to have been named in the email.
RPS has since charged 38-year-old Tobechi Okwuonu with two counts of uttering threats.
CMA president empathizes with Shahab
In an interview with Global News, Canadian Medical Association president Dr. Katharine Smart said she feels for all medical health officers in the country.
“(In Saskatchewan) things are so dire and he’s dealing with a government who is not releasing to the public his public health recommendations, who’s not being transparent about the modelling,” Smart said.
“I’m sure he feels a huge burden of responsibility for what is happening in the province and likely feels so frustrated that his hands are tied in so many ways by the political machine, which is the government.”
Smart said her heart goes out to Shahab who has been working tirelessly since the beginning of the pandemic.
She added that it is clear limiting social contact helps curb the spread of COVID-19.
“What we’re seeing is (Shahab) having to plead with the public rather than the government step up and put these public health measures in place so that it’s clear to citizens that this is really not a negotiable issue at this point in the pandemic.”
“I feel in a lot of ways he’s been abandoned by the politicians who just aren’t willing to stand behind him and his recommendations,” Smart added.
As for what the public can do to help, Smart said members of the public need to “demand transparency from governments.”
“We are seeing our populations experiencing gaslighting by governments who are minimizing what’s going on, not accepting responsibility for poor decisions and really just refusing to step back, analyze where things are and make some of the tough decisions that need to be made to make the population safe.”
— with files from Thomas Piller