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COVID-19: Saskatchewan limiting PCR testing to priority population, dropping daily updates

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Saskatchewan limiting PCR testing to priority population, dropping daily updates' COVID-19: Saskatchewan limiting PCR testing to priority population, dropping daily updates
Sask. populations prioritized for PCR testing include hospitalized patients, care home and congregate living residents, pregnant patients and newborns of COVID-19 positive parents – Feb 3, 2022

Effective Feb. 7, COVID-19 PCR testing in Saskatchewan can only be accessed through HealthLine 811 and will only be available to priority populations.

Priority populations include hospitalized patients, care home residents, congregate living facilities, international travellers or those from areas of concern, health-care or essential workers, symptomatic residents or workers in First Nation and Métis communities.

Read more: Free rapid COVID tests readily available in Saskatchewan but scarce in Alberta. Why?

It will also include surgical patients with symptoms or a positive rapid antigen test if scheduled or expecting to receive surgery within the next 90 days and those with chronic illness.

Additionally, pregnant patients who are symptomatic and more than 30 weeks gestation, newborns born to COVID-19-positive parents, and symptomatic immunocompromised individuals including all transport donors and recipients prior to and post transplant, all oncology patients prior to receiving or post chemotherapy.

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Saskatchewan Health Authority interim COO Derek Miller said drive-thru and walk-in testing will also close on Feb. 7. The testing at these sites has been available on a first-come, first-served basis for anyone regardless of symptoms.

Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan to end proof of vaccination, negative test ‘very soon,’ premier says' Saskatchewan to end proof of vaccination, negative test ‘very soon,’ premier says
Saskatchewan to end proof of vaccination, negative test ‘very soon,’ premier says – Jan 31, 2022

The province will also move from daily COVID-19 case updates to weekly updates the week of Feb. 7. The weekly report will be available on Thursdays.

The weekly report will provide information on laboratory-confirmed cases, deaths, tests and vaccination information overall by zone. The provincial COVID-19 dashboard will be discontinued and information will be archived.

 

Read more: More transmissible BA.2 Omicron subvariant detected in Saskatoon

Officials on a Provincial Emergency Operations Centre (PEOC) briefing held Thursday continued to encourage residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

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Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab was asked repeatedly if Premier Scott Moe’s statements about vaccine effectiveness were true or false.

On Monday, Moe told reporters he was basing his statements on data included in daily COVID-19 reports.

Shahab said daily case numbers can be misleading.

“If you look at daily case numbers that we report, that can lead to an interpretation that is different from vaccine effectiveness studies that I certainly review,” Shahab said.

Shahab explained that breakthrough analysis seems to suggest vaccines don’t prevent transmission, and vaccine effectiveness studies in Ontario, B.C. the U.K. and the U.S. show that protection against mild illness does wane as soon as two to three months post-second dose and two to three months after a booster dose.

“I think there’s a definite role for vaccinations in preventing serious outcomes (and) a lesser role with Omicron in reducing transmission,” Shahab said.

Deputy chief medical health officer Dr. Julie Kryzanowski said recent data shows that unvaccinated people were four times more at risk of hospitalization than people who had received their booster dose.

That same data showed that those who were unvaccinated were also three times more at risk for hospitalization than people who were fully vaccinated without their booster dose.

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Kryzanowski said a booster dose does provide some protection against infection, even with Omicron. Though it does show that protection can wane over time, people that are protected against infection can’t transmit that infection to others.

“That’s the reason that we continue to say that vaccines provide safe and effective protection and getting fully vaccinated, including with a booster dose if you’re eligible, provides the best protection,” Kryzanowski said.

Moe hints at lifting restrictions again

In a video posted to his Twitter account Wednesday night, Moe once again made these comments and hinted at lifting restrictions with details coming “in the days ahead”.

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“Both vaccinated and unvaccinated people are getting (COVID-19), and they’re getting it at virtually the same rate,” Moe said.

Moe did encourage vaccination and the use of rapid antigen tests.

He also addressed personal risk assessment, something medical officials and politicians alike have been encouraging residents to do when deciding how they should interact during the Omicron wave.

“Travel, go to work, have dinner with your friends, go to the movies, go to your kids games — most importantly. You should do these things without constantly assessing if your every activity is absolutely necessary,” Moe said.

“What’s necessary is your freedom. What’s necessary is getting your life back to normal, and it’s time.”

Shahab said all residents going forward need to make decisions based on personal and family risk and with an understanding about what’s going on at the community level.

Read more: Canadian military kicks out dozens of unvaccinated troops, more to follow

Saskatchewan Medical Association president Dr. Eben Strydom said he’s very concerned about the current situation.

“At this stage, to have mixed messages in terms of what the public needs to do is dangerous,” Strydom told Global News.

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Official opposition leader Ryan Meili had a stern message for the premier.

“Show some goddamn leadership,” Meili stated, referring to news of a protest against vaccine mandates at the Saskatchewan Legislature this weekend.

“Tell these people to stay the hell out of Regina. There’s no place for this kind of garbage.”

Meili said now is not the time to give up the fight against COVID-19, and accused the premier of doing just that.

“I understand how fatigued people are, how tired people are of this. Do not take — to the people of Saskatchewan — do not take Scott Moe’s giving up as indication that you should too. You have been doing the right things,” Meili said.

Shahab asked about Moe’s vaccine comments

On at least five occasions, reporters asked Shahab about the misleading claims shared by the premier in the past week. On Saturday, in a letter supporting the trucker convoy to Ottawa, Moe claimed vaccination doesn’t prevent infection or transmission of the Omicron variant.

Shahab did not give a clear answer as to whether Moe’s statements were true or false, though they have been widely rejected by medical experts who say two shots and a booster offer up to 70 per cent protection against Omicron infection.

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Moe previously told reporters daily case counts in Saskatchewan indicate vaccinated and unvaccinated people are getting infected at a similar rate.

During Thursday’s briefing, Shahab said daily case counts and vaccine effectiveness studies can lead to different interpretations. Daily case counts can be “misleading,” the doctor said.

“I would not want to double-guess how government or the premier would interpret that data,” Shahab said.

Moe has acknowledged that vaccines prevent severe outcomes from COVID-19 like hospitalization and death.

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