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October marks deadliest month of pandemic, Sask. doctors say it was 'preventable'

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REGINA -

At the start of October, epidemiologist Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine said he thought September might be considered the worst month of the fourth wave.

Just 31 days later, he’s rethinking that.

“In some ways, October eclipsed the worst month that we had,” Muhajarine said.

Saskatchewan recorded 156 COVID-related deaths in October, making it the deadliest month of the pandemic.

The previous high was set in January, when 151 deaths were reported.

Muhajarine notes that many of January’s deaths were “closely associated with outbreaks among vulnerable people in long-term care homes.”

He says October’s death numbers are more concerning as they occurred when vaccines were readily accessible.

“COVID deaths in October were relatively more preventable than those that occurred in January,” he said.

As of Monday, the province had the highest COVID-19 death rate in the country.

“October has not been a kind month by any stretch of the imagination,” Muhajarine said.

“Saskatchewan experienced what all the provinces feared we would experience at the beginning of the pandemic and that is our healthcare system being overrun.”

For the first time in the pandemic, COVID-19 ICU patients had to be transferred out of province to alleviate pressure on critical care. As of Monday, 26 people were being treated in Ontario.

ONE MONTH OF VACCINATION REQUIREMENTS

Monday marked one month since the provincial government implemented proof of vaccination requirements for certain businesses and employees.

The measures were meant to boost vaccine uptake at a time when demand had slowed and cases continued to rise.

According to Muhajarine, there was an uptick in vaccinations, particularly first doses, as soon as the requirements were announced in mid-September. However, he says that uptick slowed once the public health order kicked in.

“Soon after Oct. 1, we started to see that downward trend in vaccine uptake, particularly the first dose,” Muhajarine said,

“It has not been sustained and it is now a month later.”

As of Monday, 85.6 per cent of eligible residents had received their first dose and roughly 78 per cent were fully vaccinated.

While vaccine uptake varies based on region and age, Muhajarine says he is hopeful the number of fully vaccinated people will increase once kids under 12 are eligible.

However, he says Saskatchewan’s fully vaccinated population likely won’t reach 85 per cent without an increase in adults getting their second dose.

“We just have to get those vaccines out to people,” said Muhajarine, adding a door-to-door vaccine initiative might be the next step to consider.

“We need to take the vaccines to where they live and, in doing so, I think we are probably having a conversation with them as well.”

Health Minister Paul Merriman continues to ask residents to get vaccinated.

He says if people are uncomfortable with getting two doses, the province is working to procure an allotment of the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

“I’m very hopeful it will be in before the end of the month and we can start vaccinating,” Merriman said.

“We do have lots of options and I would encourage people to get vaccinated.”

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