Saturday marks the 3rd anniversary of when Saskatchewan declared a state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic, but experts say the virus is still hanging on.
“It has stabilized, but it’s stabilized at a pretty moderate, to moderate high level, which is not where we want to see it,” said Dr. Cory Neudorf, professor of community health and epidemiology at the USask College of Medicine.
Neudorf said a persistent level of COVID-19 is putting a strain on the hospital system, adding it’s pushing beyond the normal urgent levels and into teetering close to crisis.
He said major tertiary hospitals are seeing a lot of overcapacity beyond what you’d normally expect.
“We can’t maintain this level of usual pressure plus COVID-19 pressures without having negative impacts on staff and patients.”
Stats from the province’s CRISP reports shows that persistence, with staffed COVID-19 inpatient beds consistently hovering around five to six per cent between Jan. 19 to March 16, deaths hovering around under 20 people per report, and the population of residents with up to date vaccinations stagnating around 46 per cent.
Neudorf said the consistent levels of hospitalization and deaths is still concerning, but that it’s not as high as the peak of the pandemic.
“We lose track of the fact that less than 20 (deaths) per reporting period translates to one or more deaths per day happening due to COVID-19 still, which is still very concerning.”
He added we’ve become numb to that.
Neudorf said they are seeing a recent uptick in middle aged residents being admitted to the ICU, suggesting that the subvariant XBB 1.5 has been slowly gaining ground.
He said they don’t look at testing results anymore, noting they’ve had to watch wastewater results instead.
“Just like winter is hanging on, COVID-19 is hanging on as well.”
He said to expect this consistent level of the virus in the short to medium term through the spring.
Neudorf said he’s disappointed to see the lack of uptake for the bivalent booster, reiterating the message that the booster better protects against these subvariants, which he says are finding ways around the vaccine to cause an infection.
He said people should stay home if they’re sick, but said he recognizes there have been so many respiratory viruses making the rounds.
“I think what has happened is because we have so many respiratory viruses going around right now, for parents who have been doing that, or if you have had to stay home, it’s a lot of sick time. And so, employers also need to be continuing to support this hybrid working arrangements if you can.”
Neudorf said we should expect to see a seasonal ebb and flow of infection, with summer seeing cases go down, and winter seeing cases go back up, adding that this could continue for several years.
Dr. Julie Kryzanowski, deputy chief medical health officer in Saskatchewan, said the CRISP report looks at respiratory illnesses across the board.
She said the burden of respiratory illnesses as a whole is trending down right now, but COVID-19 has stabilized.
Kryzanowski added modelling shows that we should continue to see COVID-19 transmission over the next weeks and months, but nothing extreme.
“There is nothing pointing to another wave at this point and time.”
She said she couldn’t speak to hospital overcapacity, but noted that the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s (SHA) analytics teams are looking at CRISP reports to help forecast bed utilization.