COVID-19 continued to make headlines in Saskatchewan throughout 2021

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COVID-19 continued to make headlines in Saskatchewan throughout 2021
WATCH: 2021, more than anything else, has been marked by the COVID-19 pandemic. For Saskatchewan’s health-care workers, it was a year of struggle, sacrifice and hope in the face of what seemed like insurmountable odds – Dec 29, 2021

The year started with Saskatchewan in the midst of COVID-19’s second wave.

It is ending with the waning of the fourth wave, but with fears of a fifth wave after the Omicron variant was detected in the province.

When January started, temporary public health restrictions that were put in place in December 2020 — including a ban on household visits, capacity limits at businesses and a ban on adult team sports — were extended until March 9.

The province eased restrictions that day, allowing bubbles of up to three households to a maximum of 10 individuals in a home at any one time.

It didn’t last long in Regina, as the province clamped down on household gathering sizes in the region on March 24 as the city became the provincial hot spot for COVID-19 cases.

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Private indoor gatherings were limited to immediate family members only, with exceptions made for people living alone and single parents of minor children.

Travel into and of the region was not recommended unless absolutely necessary.

Dr. Alexander Wong, an infectious disease physician in Regina, said front-line health-care workers banded together for what they thought would be the worst of COVID-19.

“There was really this collaborative, like, ‘You know what? We got vaccine here. We just need to buy as much time. Let’s just push hard, work together and try to just kind of get through it,’ thinking that we wouldn’t have to hopefully ever do it again,” he said in a year-end interview.

Household bubbles were again restricted across the province on April 13 to only immediate household members as a means to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Public health restrictions were extended several more times before the province announced its three-step reopening plan on May 4.

Step 1 started on May 30 after three weeks passed since 70 per cent of the population aged 40 and older had received their first vaccination shot.

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Among the restrictions eased were seating capacities at restaurants and gathering limits at private gatherings.

Step 2 was reached on June 20, when 70 per cent of those 30 and older had received their first dose of the vaccine.

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Among the changes were lifting capacity limits at retail stores and restaurants, lifting all restrictions on youth and adult sports, and allowing up to 15 people at private gatherings.

As new case numbers continued to decline and more people received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, the province said it would lift all public health measures, including masking, on July 11.

“This is by no means the end of COVID. This is the end of public health restrictions that are in place,” Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said at the time.

“COVID will still be here on July the 12th, July the 13th and on through the summer.”

Moe said at the time that the province would not be bringing in a requirement to show proof of vaccination before entering a business or attending an event.

“When we get past July 11, we’ll be into an area where the emergency order will not be in place,” Moe said on June 30.

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“We most certainly don’t have the ability then to demand that people would show a proof of vaccination for whether or not they would attend any large event.”

Moe doubled down in August when he said the province wouldn’t mandate vaccine passports, but would support businesses and workplaces requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test.

That changed on Sept. 16 when Moe said the unvaccinated were driving the fourth wave of COVID-19.

Daily case numbers had dropped below 100 for most of the summer but started spiking near the end of August, with more than 300 new cases reported daily through most of September.

Moe said proof of vaccination or a negative test would be required as of Oct. 1 for indoor dining at restaurants, nightclubs, bars, event and entertainment venues, and indoor fitness centres and gyms.

Cases spiked higher in October, with the province implementing mandatory masking for all indoor public spaces.

The target to lift the measure was the end of October, but it has been since extended into the start of 2022 as the fourth wave saw a surge in the number of hospitalizations and patients in intensive care.

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A record number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital was reported on Oct. 6 — 356 — and a high of 85 COVID-19 intensive care patients was reported on Oct. 18.

ICU beds in Saskatchewan were overwhelmed and the province started sending COVID-19 intensive care patients to Ontario for treatment.

“We ended up, frankly, with the worst of all of it where we ended up having our ICU overflowed, just on the cusp of formal triage protocols and having to fly nearly 30 people out to Ontario,” Wong said.

There wasn’t enough space to treat them so COVID-19 patients spilled over into cardiac centres and children’s wards.

Health-care workers called for help and Dr. Susan Shaw warned what would happen if they didn’t get it.

“We’ll be forced into a situation where actually having to choose who receives critical care, who receives end-of-life care, who receives palliative care. I do not want to go there,” Shaw, the chief medical officer for the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said in September.

Military nurses were flown in to help overwhelmed health-care workers in the province.

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New case count records were set and more than 150 COVID-19-related deaths were reported in October — the deadliest month yet.

And the disease spread to children, who were not yet able to be vaccinated.

The last ICU patient returned to Saskatchewan in December.

December saw the Saskatchewan report its first cases of the Omicron variant. Health officials said four members from a single family with a travel history to Africa screened positive for the variant.

“I know there’s messaging now around how we’re going to rebound and we’re going to do a whole bunch of surgeries and all these other things,” Wong said.

“But honestly, we’re going to have a fifth wave of COVID and I’m not sure who’s going to be left.”

As the calendar ticks over to 2022, it’s becoming clear the numbers don’t matter.

This is the era of the pandemic, and it will remain that way until more people in the province get their first, second and third doses and until countries with vaccines help those without.

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“If we don’t, this is basically what our reality is going to be. We’re going to have a fifth wave and a sixth wave, then a seventh wave, and there’s going to be never-ending variants.”

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