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Added: October 26, 2021
Medical health officers (MHOs) across Saskatchewan are once again pleading with the provincial government to do more to combat COVID-19.
In a recent letter to Health Minister Paul Merriman obtained by CBC News, doctors said the delay in implementing some of the recommendations they called for in August has “resulted in a much larger fourth wave” and stronger restrictions are needed to bring it under control.
“Our calls for province-wide action have not been answered,” read the letter, which was dated Oct. 21.
“In our current context, reported positive cases do not tell the full story. Without further action, it is highly likely that we will face even higher rates of hospitalization in coming weeks and risk health system collapse, as well as many more preventable deaths.”
While much of Saskatchewan’s population is now fully immunized and proof of vaccination requirements have helped improve coverage rates, physicians said the province is not yet expected to meet the level of immunity needed to stop the growth of the pandemic for several months.
Doctors said “stop gap measures” — via a provincial order — are needed. Those include:
- Gathering restrictions.
- Unvaccinated people should not gather outside their households.
- Vaccinated people can gather with up to one other household.
- Venues (used for weddings and funerals) should be reduced to 25 per cent capacity, with no indoor dining unless proof of vaccination is required at entry.
- Places of worship that don’t require proof of vaccination should mandate mask wearing and reduce in-person attendance to 25 per cent capacity.
- Proof of vaccination required with no negative test option for:
- School staff, students 12 and older, and households of students under 12 that aren’t vaccinated.
- All daycare staff.
- All facilities hosting youth sports or extracurricular activities, including participants, staff, coaches, volunteers and spectators.
- Clearer government messaging around:
- Reducing contacts and outings by 50 per cent for the next 28 days.
- Working from home again, if possible.
- The importance of being fully vaccinated and for people to seek out reliable information sources.
- Adopt the remainder of the Aug. 26 recommendations, including:
- Expanding testing and contact tracing capacity.
- Publicly reporting more detailed COVID-19 information, such as modelling data and case and immunization numbers in narrower age groups.
- Increasing access to linked data so epidemiologists can give better advice to public health teams.
The doctors said these restrictions, on top of the already-in-place masking mandate, is needed until at least the new year. Their removal should be tied, the letter added, to when 85 per cent of Saskatchewan’s population is fully immunized and the health-care system is stabilized.
“We understand that returning to these restrictions is not what our population wants, or what our leaders want to contemplate, but with the health system in crisis, the alternatives are much worse,” the letter said.
If the government chooses not to implement any new restrictions, doctors say a lockdown similar to spring 2020 could be needed. That would include moving all students back to online learning.