Delta variant, unvaccinated cases driving COVID-19 spread in Sask.
Rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations – fuelled by the Delta variant and transmission among unvaccinated residents – have led to further COVID-19 restrictions being implemented in Saskatchewan.
“New cases are overwhelmingly in unvaccinated people. Hospitalizations are also overwhelming in those that are not vaccinated,” Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said during a press conference Thursday.
Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Health Officer, said the spread of COVID-19 continues to be driven by the Delta variant.
“Delta is twice as transmittable, twice as severe, is causing hospitalizations in the unvaccinated like never before,” Dr. Shahab said.
Since the previous public health orders were lifted on July 11, Delta variant cases in the province have increased nearly-tenfold, rising from 349 confirmed cases, to 3,210 as of Sept. 16.
As Delta cases rose in the province, so did active cases and hospitalization totals. On July 11, the province had 399 active cases and 54 residents in hospital related to COVID-19, including six in intensive care.
Those totals have skyrocketed, with 4,064 active cases and 218 patients in hospital – including 48 in ICU – as of Thursday.
“The Delta variant has shown that it is twice as transferable, so instead of infecting two people when one person was infectious, it infects four,” Dr. Shahab said. “And it is twice as severe. Instead of 100 people in hospital, we have 200 at the same rate of transmission.”
Dr. Alex Wong, an infectious disease physician in Regina, said Saskatchewan’s hospital system is pretty much at full capacity. With the current case and hospitalization trends, he said modelling predicts numbers could double in the next two weeks.
“We are looking at 48 in ICU [on Thursday], that’s going to be close to 100 in ICU in two weeks, which is a number we’ve never even come remotely close to before,” Dr. Wong said. “If we see that trajectory over the next couple of days continue to rise, we’re going to be in big trouble and looking at a triage situation without question.”
After implementing new provincial restrictions on Thursday in an attempt to lessen the stress on the province’s health care system, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said the situation now and the situation in July are not comparable.
“The information that’s available at those two different points in time is very, very different,” the premier said. “Our Delta rates were very different earlier in the summer than they are today.”
The province’s vaccination rate was also much higher in July, with the majority of the population working towards getting their second shot.
Dr. Shahab said the modelling used to develop the provinces reopening plan for the summer projected Saskatchewan would be “safe” with 75 per cent of the population fully vaccinated. Saskatchewan currently has 69.9 per cent of the population fully vaccinated, based on data from the Saskatchewan COVID-19 dashboard.
Dr. Shahab suggested that the current spread of the virus could have been caused by residents letting their guard down with masking and physical distancing after restrictions were removed.
“I think many of us stopped practicing many of those measures,” Dr. Shahab said. “I think one mistake is that one hoped that behaviour we learned over 15 months would continue, but they got dropped very quickly.”
“We all enjoyed that summer, and it was safe to do so, but now it is not.”
Both Moe and Dr. Shahab encouraged the approximately 306,000 residents who remain unvaccinated to get the shot.