Sask. government should make Dr. Shahab’s COVID-19 gathering recommendation policy: epidemiologist

Click to play video: 'Inconsistent messaging for Omicron in Saskatchewan' Inconsistent messaging for Omicron in Saskatchewan
WATCH: Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s top doctor, says "this is not the time for any gatherings at all," though Premier Scott Moe has not introduced new restrictions – Jan 8, 2022

Saskatchewan has not introduced any new restrictions to slow the Omicron variant of COVID-19 and it’s time for Premier Scott Moe to take heed of his top doctor’s recommendation, according to an epidemiologist.

Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine, a University of Saskatchewan (USask) professor, said comments from Dr. Saqib Shahab during a Thursday news conference showed a discrepancy between the doctor’s advice and government policy.

Read more: Saskatchewan nurses union warns of ‘onslaught’ of COVID-19 hospitalizations as outbreaks declared

“It is time, I think, for the political leader to reckon with that and actually follow the advice,” said Muhajarine.

On at least four occasions during the news conference, the chief medical health officer reiterated the same recommendation.

“My recommendation right now is do not meet anyone indoors outside your household unless it’s part of school or work,” said Shahab.

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“This is not the time for any gatherings at all.”

He also stated it was his job to provide advice to the provincial government and allow politicians to implement public health orders as they see fit.

Saskatchewan health officials reported 1,170 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, breaking the previous record of 913 set Thursday.

Read more: Saskatchewan sets new daily record for COVID-19 cases

Global News requested a response from the premier, but received a statement attributed to the Saskatchewan government instead. It stated some of Shahab’s recommendations during the pandemic resulted in public health orders, but “most were provided as guidance to Saskatchewan residents.”

“Dr. Shahab’s comments about gatherings is another example of that guidance,” reads the statement.

The government said no new restrictions would be announced Friday, but as Moe has stated, further restrictions are not being ruled out in the future if needed.

Read more: COVID-19 — What Sask. employees should know about PCR testing rights, workers’ comp. claims

The inconsistency in messaging makes the current stage of the pandemic more difficult, according to USask medical anthropologist Pamela Downe.

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“I don’t think there is a message,” she said.

“If there’s not consistency in what people are hearing and what they’re sharing among their networks, then you get confusion.”

The usual result of public health confusion, according to Downe, is unchanged behaviour. So far during the novel coronavirus pandemic, people have generally not made choices that align with public health best practices, she added.

Read more: Posting those rapid test results online can help normalize the habit, experts say

There is a precedent for inconsistent messaging in previous pandemics, Downe said, including the influenza pandemic of 1918, the cholera outbreaks of the early 1990s and the SARS pandemic of the early 21st century.

In her mind, the best way forward is to strengthen relationships and communication among local leaders.

“I really think that the local messaging is what is going to matter most in the end.”

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