A provincial emergency operations centre (PEOC) briefing provided more details about what services are being prioritized to resume in Saskatchewan after being slowed down due to a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations.
As a result of responding to fourth wave, Derek Miller with Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) said 860 staff have been redeployed to ICUs, active services, contact tracing, testing and outbreak management.
A total of 450 staff members working in contact tracing, testing assessment and outbreak management are expected to return to their home departments within three weeks.
But Miller said individual workers are being transferred back, not whole units.
That means not all services will return to their pre-pandemic level of capacity.
“We can pull back some of those people based on their (role in) contact tracing and redeployment,” he said.
“But others that have been deployed to immunization and also to support ICU and acute (care), they will remain in those roles.”
So 70-year-old Dallas Oberik must wait even longer for hip surgery.
The Saskatchewan NDP brought her to the legislature to show how people are being affected by the slowdown.
Sitting in a wheelchair, Oberik told reporters she’s needed hip replacement surgery for nearly three years and is in pain every day.
She’s needed the procedure since before the pandemic and the COVID surgery slowdown delayed it even further.
She said she needs a walker to get around her own home, that she’s very scared of falling and seriously injuring herself and that her health is deteriorating as she waits.
Read more: Declared COVID-19 outbreaks in Saskatchewan
She’s become diabetic since she was placed on the waitlist, she said.
“It’s like a pebble that drops in the water. Yes I need my hips replaced but there’s all this other stuff that’s happening as a result,” she told reporters.
She said she’s eagerly awaiting treatment and blames Premier Scott Moe and health minister Paul Merriman for the slowdown.
“(My health) is going to be worse,” she said.
“And I will live with it simply because I have no other choice.”
After question period Premier Scott Moe kneeled down to speak to Oberik. Global News didn’t hear the conversation.
Miller said autism services and child psychology services are some of the first to resume, on Nov. 11.
“More broadly across the province, we are resuming more aggressively, the children services concurrent to this, and that is certainly our priority in terms of programming to restart,” Miller said.
“As the numbers have decreased, we had surged up to be able to manage hundreds of cases a day that we’re not experiencing right now. So our reality is that we are at a point where we have resources that can be redeployed back to home units to resume services,” Miller added.
Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency president Marlo Pritchard said the province is looking at bringing on third-party contact tracers, should case numbers rise.
Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said the pressure on contact tracing is relieved as cases go down,
“This also then leads to some of the modelling questions, that while our case numbers are trending down, our acute care and ICU admissions will still take longer to trend down and the case numbers are still high enough to generate ongoing hospitalizations,” Shahab said.
Shahab pointed to a lot of cases in the central east and south east areas of the province and low vaccination rates in the areas, especially in the 12 to 49 age group.
One dose vaccination rates are in the 70s and fully vaccinated rates are in the 60s, he explained.
“So low (vaccination) coverage (and) high number of contacts is leading to unfortunately not just high case numbers in rural areas, but also hospitalizations,” Shahab said.
Miller said the SHA is planning on resuming some services, but is still planning for high demand if needed.
“Some hospitalization numbers are going downward, but we are still seeing high numbers in ICU and it’s anticipated that it’s going to take longer to take it out from underneath that, just based on the nature of this disease,” Miller said.
“As we look forward, as we kind of plot how much surge capacity do we need to have, we’re certainly looking to the trending information, the modelling, as well as our overall capacity in order to ensure that we can respond to the fluctuations in demand,” Miller added.
He explained the SHA will be monitoring staffing needs going forward as services are resumed and respond based on what trends indicate.
Shahab said new modelling will be presented next week.
University of Manitoba infectious disease professor and Canada Research Chair holder Jason Kindrachuk said the government could react to the decreasing numbers but had to pay close attention to whether the trends hold.
“Even though cases are going in the right direction, it does not mean certainly that the threat is gone,” he said, stating the virus will still spread.
Kindrachuk said policymakers must find the delicate balance between restoring services and monitoring the spread of the disease.
“As kids are spending more time together, and certainly as we’ve seen with (the) Delta (variant) and its ability to be able to get into kids and transmit among kids, there is still that question of what is this going to look like because there is more sustained contact?” he said.
Epidemiologist Dr. Cory Neudorf was unavailable for an interview but told Global News over email that at some point, staff need to return to home positions but plans should be based on both modelling projections and “real time assessment of anticipated workload.”
“I think they are relying on current trends continuing to go down but it remains to be seen if these trajectories remain,” Neudorf said pointing to cases going up a bit over the past two days.
Neudorf added there needs to be discussion about more intensive contact tracing as cases drop so continued community transmission can be dealt with more efficiently to ensure there isn’t a fifth wave on top of a fourth wave before the holidays.