Further reduction in COVID cases is required to return Sask. health system to normal: officials

Saskatchewan’s intensive care units are currently experiencing a declining number of patients infected with COVID-19, but a further reduction in overall acute care and intensive care patients is needed for the province’s health system to return to its pre-fourth wave state, the Saskatchewan Health Authority says.

“Everyone wants to see the case numbers continue to fall, and then the associated hospitalizations will do the same,” Derek Miller, SHA’s head of emergency operations, said during a COVID-19 media briefing Tuesday.

“[That] would allow us to fully resume services and return to a sense of normalcy. “

We’re not quite there yet, Miller said.

On Tuesday morning, there were a total of 80 intensive care unit patients, including 34 with COVID-19, in Saskatchewan.

With the exception of the seven former Saskatchewan ICU patients who remain in intensive care in Ontario, Tuesday’s total ICU in the province is roughly on par with the baseline of 79 ICU beds that the province can normally muster without relocating hundreds of medical staff to the ICU. ‘s and other COVID-19 efforts that SHA has had to make during the fourth wave.

These relocations have contributed to an ongoing backlog of delayed healthcare services, including 27,000 non-emergency operations from March 2020 to the end of October 2021, although SHA worked to reduce this backlog during the summer before the fourth wave hit.

Derek Miller is head of emergency operations for the Saskatchewan Health Authority. (Olivier Ferapie / Radio-Canada)

In recent weeks, SHA has been able to set in motion many delayed services in regional centers such as Prince Albert, Lloydminster, Melfort, Nipawin, Humboldt, Kindersley and Rosetown as the number of ICU patients in rural hospitals has fallen.

However, in terms of surgeries, this initial effort is slower in Regina and Saskatoon “due to the need to maintain care for hospitalized and intensive care patients,” according to an update of service resume issued shortly before the briefing.

“Regina has held many vacancies as a nurse and will therefore not be able to resume as quickly as elsewhere.”

Miller said the reduction in occupied ICU beds mostly happens in regional hospitals.

“We are experiencing high COVID demand in our city centers, in Saskatoon and Regina,” he said. “We really need to see them come down with the rest of it to start moving towards the normal.”

“We are not out of the woods yet in terms of our fourth wave,” echoed the chief physician, Dr. Saqib Shahab. “It will take longer before our acute care and hospital numbers fall.”

Read the province’s full service resume update below or click here.

Keep masking yourself indoors until March 2022: Shahab

Saskatchewan on Tuesday reported 69 new cases of COVID-19, the lowest daily increase in many weeks.

The province’s current health restrictions, including the need to disguise itself in indoor public spaces and the proof-of-vaccination program, are set to expire on November 30.

Shahab warned two weeks ago that these restrictions should remain in place during the winter season to prevent an increase in COVID-19 cases.

Shortly afterwards, Premier Scott Moe said the restrictions would likely be extended and remain in place until at least the end of the year.

Doctors with SHA then said that lifting the restrictions by spring 2022 would cause yet another increase that would challenge the health care system again.

Dr. Shahab was asked on Tuesday what recommendations he has recently given to Moe’s government about the immediate future of restrictions.

Shahab declined to speak with any specific recommendations to the government, saying they are confidential.

Shahab said the proof-of-vaccination program remains a “powerful” tool that has helped reduce transmission at events. He said evidence should be presented in places where it is not required by the current public health order.

“It may be reviewed in January,” Shahab said of the program, “but we have certainly seen how it allows us to do so many things that would otherwise be difficult.”

The Shahab also recommended that the public continue to wear masks indoors “until at least March.”

Dr. Saqib Shahab is Saskatchewan’s leading medical health officer. (The Canadian Press)

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