While other provinces go ahead with stronger restrictions, Saskatchewan has decided to maintain a steady-as-she-goes stance with regards to public health restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19.
On Jan. 12, Premier Scott Moe and Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab announced from the Legislature in Regina that current restrictions will remain in place a further two weeks, to Jan. 29.
Saskatchewan has seen its new cases rise significantly since Christmas. On Jan. 12, Saskatchewan had a seven-day average of 317.6 new cases per day, the highest it has been to date. There’s been a steady climb since Dec. 30, the most recent low point, when the seven-day average was 152.6. In the two weeks since that date, the seven-day average has doubled.
This was not surprising, however, as Moe noted there were expectations of a rise after the holidays. Shahab noted almost every province has seen a similar rebound after the holidays.
“We're seeing the outcome for primarily gatherings that happened over the holidays,” he said
To reduce high case numbers, Shahab said that everything needs to slow down again.
“Everything is doing in mid-December the same regulatory guidelines in place was kind of bending the curve downwards. I think all of us need to revisit those behaviors throughout the province,” Shahab said.
Moe said the province did expect that there would be a bump in numbers after the holiday season.
“We didn't expect that it would be 100 per cent universal compliance; however, we hoped for that. But we did see with these very set of measures that were in place, a lowering of the rate of transmission in December and we're hopeful that we'll see that same lowering in a couple of weeks ahead.”
“Yes, there are areas of the nation that have additional measures in place, but most certainly, the measures in place in Saskatchewan are not insignificant, in any way. And they did work,” he said, pointing out that throughout December, case counts had fallen.
Shahab pointed out that while most people complied with the orders restricting visitation and groups, about 10 per cent did not. And the modelling predicted the current COVID-19 case numbers if that many people did not comply.
“I think we really have to course-correct this week, and see a decline in case numbers the next week. Otherwise, we could be in a critical situation. You know, our case numbers, our seven-day average, are the second highest, right now, in Canada.”
Shahab continued, “I think we have to be very cautious now, even more so than we were in mid-December, but with our collective actions, we can turn this around, without having to go into significant lockdown, but it requires all of us to take the collective action.”
He noted that while case numbers had declined in December, that may not have been a true picture, as the testing numbers were also down.
“We have another two weeks with the current measures in place. But we need universal compliance, to see if this can turn around. Otherwise, the other options that remain, beyond the current public health measures, that we are seeing being enacted across many other jurisdictions across Canada, are quite stringent,” Shahab said. “But we can turn this around, by universal compliance by all of us, which actually did happen in December. We were on an upward trajectory. It leveled off with the same measures we have in place now,” Shahab said.
With regards to increasing restrictions, Moe said, “There’s consequences to that, as well,” referencing the impact on individuals’ mental health, and on youth.
Moe added, “If we're not able to start to bend this trajectory down by the end of January, Dr. Shahab may have some more difficult decisions to make. If we are able to start to bend that trajectory down, and that would be a positive thing and we're very hopeful that we'll see results like we did throughout January, with the very same set of measures in place here today, post the holiday season.”
He said he spent a few weeks at home in Shellbrook, and in speaking to people, he found “a certain level of COVID fatigue.” That included himself.
“We have to ask people to, although they may be fatigued, with the COVID measures that are in place, we need them to adhere to them just a little bit longer, until we can ensure that we have access to the majority Saskatchewan people with this vaccine. So we have some, some weeks and likely a couple months ahead of us.”
Regarding the COVID-19 vaccines, the province will no longer hold back the second dose for those who have received an initial dose. This will allow accelerated distribution of the vaccines. In the first quarter of this year, Saskatchewan is expecting 190,000 doses, enough to vaccinate 95,000 people, or eight per cent of the population. In February, 60,000 doses are expected and the Saskatchewan Health Authority will be aiming for 2,000 vaccinations per day, up from about 1,000 per day currently.
Moe noted the guidelines for the very-temperature-sensitive Pfizer vaccine have been opened up, allowing it to be transported to places like long-term care homes, which should make distribution easier. About 10,000 vaccines have been administered and another 7,500 are in the freezer. Additional doses are expected, and between 30,000 and 32,000 vaccinations are expected by the end of January.
Shahab said vaccinations would open up more in April.
“And now, for the next three months, I think, for us and Saskatchewan, are our most critical three months, yet, because our hospitalization ICU admissions are peaking. There's a one-to-two-week lag between case numbers. So the high case numbers we saw over the last three days will impact, likely on higher hospitalizations and ICU admissions, a week or two from now. So, I think those are all things you need to watch. We need to protect ourselves our families, our communities and the most vulnerable, as the vaccination program, keeps rolling up and gives that additional protection that ultimately will enable us to get out of the pandemic,” Shahab said.