Saskatchewan’s senior medical officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, sounded the legendary Omicron alarm on Thursday afternoon and told the media that people in the province should not see anyone outside their household indoors unless it was to work or go to school.
“We have to do everything to blunt the wave. This is not the time for any gatherings at all. You have to do what is important, which is to go to work and go to school. But otherwise have no contact with someone outside your household, “Shahab said Thursday.
Shahab’s recommendation has not manifested itself in the form of any new provincial health orders. He said Thursday that any decision is up to the government.
The province’s orders do not limit assemblies in public or private, despite modeling released by Shahab on December 21st that proposed policies that reduce the population mix could limit the spread of the more transferable variant.
That modeling has proven to be an underestimation. It expected daily cases to exceed 300 by January 20 without action. On Thursday, cases were confirmed through PCR test 913 in the province, more than tripling what the model had predicted as an advanced total.
These figures do not include individuals who tested positive for a self-administered rapid test but did not agree to confirm the result with a PCR test. The province recently recommended that asymptomatic people who have a positive rapid test stay home, assume they have COVID-19, and isolate themselves instead of getting a PCR test to confirm it.
The modeling on December 21 was based on Omicron spread with a doubling rate of 5.2 days. Ontario’s science table released data more than a week before Saskatchewan’s model, which suggested Omicron’s doubling time was only three days.
On December 23, Prime Minister Scott Moe posted a video on social media suggesting the government could implement collection limits in the coming days.
If “serious cases and hospitalizations remain low and manageable,” the government would not impose measures that would “shut down activities, restrict businesses and take away your personal freedoms,” he said.
During a press conference on December 30, he ruled out the possibility of setting boundaries.
“We need to learn to live with COVID,” Moe said. “We can not lock down our communities and our community events and our businesses forever.”
Sask. officials ‘monitor’ other provinces
Moe and Shahab have consistently said they are keeping an eye on other jurisdictions to see how Omicron affects healthcare. The difficulty of comparing other provinces with Saskatchewan is that all other provinces have some form of restriction on public or private gatherings.
For example, Alberta has limited sizes at private gatherings. Quebec has curfew at 21 and limited private indoor gatherings to six people. Ontario has closed indoor dining and gyms and moved schools online until Jan. 17.
Moe said the province will monitor hospital admissions and intensive care units. He has previously said his government is making decisions to protect healthcare capacity.
The premiere has said that Omicron is “much more contagious”, but appears to be “milder” than other COVID-19 strains.
There were 100 people at Saskatchewan hospitals with COVID-19 on Thursday, down from 130 a month ago. It is not yet known how many of the new cases this week may end up needing care in a hospital in a few weeks.
“A single poorly planned and not recommended incident can result in thousands of cases which, once they affect people who are unvaccinated, elderly, fragile, immunocompromised, will lead to hospitalizations,” Shahab said on Thursday.
“Omicron is less serious, but it’s by no means something we should ignore.”
When the province was asked on Thursday for a response to Shahab’s recommendation that people not gather or mingle, the province responded with a statement.
“As the Prime Minister has said, he does not rule out new measures in the coming days if required.”
The province has not indicated what would trigger new measures. Moe did not address the media or the public this week.
Sask. back in school, while other provinces delay return
The return to schools is another example of Saskatchewan zigging when other provinces zag.
Saskatchewan was the only province to fully return to personal classes this week.
The movement was criticized by the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF), the provincial opposition and some parents.
STF called for a two-day delay in returns so divisions could make adjustments to try to limit the spread.
The NDP of the opposition said support for schools was inadequate and called for N95 masks for staff and students, improvements in school ventilation and the holding of vaccination clinics in schools.
Provincial Education Minister Dustin Duncan said Wednesday that the province “worked very closely” with the Saskatchewan School Boards Association (SSBA) on returning to school.
“There was certainly no interest expressed in extending the holiday break,” Duncan said.
But on Thursday, SSBA President Shawn Davidson, he was not aware that there was a delay on the table.
“We were never given any indication by the government that they were considering responding to that request [to delay classes],” he said.
Davidson said the SSBA is not lobbying for a delay in returning to schools, but that it wants the government to restart its Education Response Planning Team. The team – made up of government ministries and education sector partners who met regularly to discuss pandemic response – disbanded in July.
Duncan said Wednesday that parents should expect “disruption” with teachers who may need to be isolated and classrooms that may need to move online.
But he said schools should be “the first to open and the last to close.”
Davidson said school departments need the government to handle contact tracing.
“School departments have neither the human resources nor necessarily the expertise to really do all that work,” Davidson said. “We’ve been helping with that for a while now, but we actually have some capacity challenges there.”
In the Regina Public School Division, 53 cases were reported on Thursday across 25 K-12 schools.
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