A Saskatchewan doctor is ringing the alarm bells and calling on the provincial government to implement stricter COVID-19 restrictions in order to help preserve capacity in the province’s intensive care units.
Dr. Alex Wong, an infectious diseases doctor at Regina General Hospital, says the current state of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan is, in a word, “bad.”
“We’re on the exact same trajectory as Alberta, you know, and we have less restrictions than Alberta, and our critical care capacity is obviously already maxed out,” Wong said.
“We don’t expect anything is going to change dramatically over the next … two or three weeks unless there are very significant measures put in place.”
That means going further than the restrictions announced by the province last week, which included bringing back a mandatory mask mandate and introducing a proof-of-vaccination policy.
Wong says it may require Saskatchewan to implement a lockdown.
Over the weekend and on Monday, Saskatchewan broke records of daily case counts, hospitalizations and the number of patients with COVID-19 in intensive care.
The record number of COVID-19 patients in ICU is what has Wong so concerned.
ICUs have finite resources and it’s best to think of the COVID-19 patients there as an additional load on top of patients that might need specialized care.
Wong says that if ICUs become overloaded and there are no more beds, it will affect not only those who have COVID-19 but others as well.
Even those who might require urgent care from something like a car wreck could face the prospect of no available hospital beds and limited staffing. That means triaging cases or making decisions about which patients will receive life-saving care.
People could die, says Wong.
“If we choose not to do anything, it’s just going to cost us in terms of lives,” he said.
ICUs pushed to the limit
That choice is not a theoretical possibility. Last week, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) confirmed it moved to the second of four escalating phases of ICU capacity. The province was at the first stage three weeks ago.
On Monday, the SHA confirmed that there were 82 patients in ICU beds across the province as of noon Monday.
There are normally only 79 ICU beds, but Saskatchewan has increased its capacity by 22 additional beds, for a total of 102.
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The province says it is also using Saskatoon’s Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital for adult patients in order to support increased demand in the city.
Pushing for a lockdown
Wong went so far as to say that a lockdown should be implemented in order to “significantly” limit the amount of contact individuals have with each other.
“We’re looking at several weeks, I think, before we start to flatten [the curve], and we’re already maxed out,” he said. “So that’s a bad place to be, which is why, unfortunately, we probably need additional measures relatively quickly.”
Even with new measures, Wong says he’s not confident that Saskatchewan is going to avoid implementing triage protocols.
“That’s a truly horrible situation that nobody wants to be [in],” he said.
“We’re just talking about making it less bad, truthfully, not avoiding it altogether. I don’t think that avoiding it is actually going to be possible.”
Last week, it appeared like Saskatchewan was one or two weeks behind Alberta in terms of the state of COVID-19 in the province. Wong said recent data indicates that is likely no longer the case.
The Ministry of Health did not provide an answer when asked to respond to Wong’s calls for stricter measures to be implemented.
Instead, the ministry offered a short statement saying they and the Saskatchewan Health Authority are continuing to monitor COVID-19 trends in the province.
“If further measures are required, we will announce them publicly through news releases and news conferences,” the statement read.