Sask. physicians town hall speaks to COVID-19 case surge

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A recent physicians townhall for the Saskatchewan Health Authority shone a light on the situation the province is facing as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

Dr. Johnmark Opondo said it’s predicted this will be the highest surge the province experiences, with staffing pressures effecting all sectors

“We are seeing an unprecedented number of positives coming in,” Opondo said.

Wastewater sampling in various parts of the province also shows a surge.

Read more: More people in Saskatchewan died waiting for surgery during COVID-19 than before: data

Opondo added people should take cold-like symptoms seriously, no matter how mild they are.

“Your first assumption is it is COVID unless proven otherwise, and you need to self-isolate. Do not go to work, stay home,” he said.

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One of the challenges with Omicron, Opondo said, is that it moves so fast and there is rapid transmission within a small time frame.

“Even if we have a milder version of COVID, it just represents higher numbers of individuals who, if they present at a very tight time frame into health care [are] really going to strain our capacity,” Opondo said.

Read more: Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe tests positive for COVID-19

Earlier this week, Premier Scott Moe was asked by reporters why the government hadn’t introduced further restrictions.

“I don’t know that those are working in any other province across Canada. We’re seeing numbers continue to spread in areas that have restrictions in place that go far beyond gathering limits,” Moe said in a Jan. 12 press conference.

Meanwhile, Saskatchewan is starting to see an increase of hospitalizations.

As of Sunday’s update, there are 162 people in hospital with COVID-19 including 12 patients in ICU.

That’s an increase of 31 patients since Friday.

Most admissions are people over age 70, though Opondo noted there is an increase in the 0 to 42 age category.

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As of Jan. 13, there were 79 total patients in ICU.

“I see demand being relatively stable at this point, but we are seeing an increase in non-ICU demand, both in COVID and non-COVID care,” Dr. John Froh said.

“We are seeing that the system pressure is mounting. And looking at other jurisdictions and modelling predictions, we anticipate to see a surge,” Froh added.

Froh said there is an anticipation that the unvaccinated “will create the largest high acuity burden on our system.”

With a high demand for PCR tests and the province moving away from widespread testing, Opondo said the “traditional way” of counting COVID-19 cases “has really been lost.”

“We believe we might only be seeing the tip of the iceberg even from our PCR test reports,” Opondo added.

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As a result, Opondo said epidemiologists are now focusing more on hospital and critical care admissions, though they realize those are lagging indicators.

The town hall also addressed the SHA’s surge plan.

Read more: Saskatchewan Health Authority updates COVID-19 surge plan

Opondo said the SHA is transitioning some of the overall responsibilities of testing, tracing and isolation practices to other sectors.

Public health teams are also focusing on promoting self-testing, self-care and self-isolation approaches in the community.

Opondo added public health teams will still follow up with outbreaks, prioritizing those in congregate settings with vulnerable people, such as long-term and personal care homes and acute care settings.

The province’s vaccine uptake was also touched on at the town hall. Saskatchewan currently has the lowest vaccination rate in the country for both first and second doses with 83 per cent and 75 per cent respectively.

Dr. Kevin Wasko noted there is lower uptake in younger people.

Vaccinations for five to 11 year olds “has stalled a bit”, but Wasko said this appears to be the case across the country, not just in Saskatchewan.

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About 50 per cent of five to 11 year olds have gotten their first vaccine dose in Saskatchewan. A total of 41 per cent of individuals ages 18 and up have received their booster shot.

Wasko said the SHA is also pushing the idea of “opportunistic vaccination” meaning patients who are receiving health care for another reason can receive their booster shot if the health care provider is able to do so.

N95 masks recommended

The SHA is now recommending providers wear an N95 mask when going into a room or space and/or being within two metres of a patient, resident or client suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19.

This rule applies to all clinical and non-clinical staff, along with affiliates and physicians working in health care settings.

SHA safety officer Dr. Mike Kelly emphasized that medical grade masks still work, especially with double masking. Those types of masks are still required in all other settings at this time.


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