Sask. doctors call for more restrictions, COVID-19 vaccine requirement in schools
Medical health officers from across the province have written another letter to the Saskatchewan government to ask for additional public health measures, including a proof-of-vaccination policy in schools for children 12 and older, to curb the surge of COVID-19.
The letter, dated Oct. 21 and addressed to Health Minister Paul Merriman, says the delay in recent measures – like a mask mandate and proof-of-vaccination requirement – prompted the province’s largest wave to date and will require stronger restrictions to control.
“Mandatory masking and proof of vaccination requirements … is starting to slow the growth of cases and hospitalizations; however, high test positivity and low testing rates point to sustained or growing COVID-19 transmission,” the medical health officers (MHOs) write.
“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.”
The doctors recommend a proof-of-vaccination policy for students 12 and older who are going to school in-person.
That policy would also include the households of students who are too young to get the vaccine.
The 21 MHOs – who are designated by the Ministry of Health to provide advice to doctors and local governments – say gathering restrictions and capacity limits should be put in place for a 28-day period and that a negative COVID-19 test shouldn’t be interchangeable with a vaccine policy.
This is the second letter that MHOs have penned to the province in the last two months. Dr. Cory Neudorf, interim senior medical health officer with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, says the MHOs are still waiting for recommendations in the first letter to be implemented.
“It is very frustrating. The medical health officers are the people that are paid by the government to prevent disease and promote health,” Neudorf said.
“When you’re trying to respond to a pandemic, these are the professionals you should be listing to.”
The letter suggests people who are not fully vaccinated should not gather with others outside of their household, and fully vaccinated households be limited to contact with one other household.
The officials say venues for weddings and funerals should scale back to 25 per cent capacity if it does not require proof of vaccination. It’s advised places of worship that don’t require proof of vaccination also cap attendance at 25 per cent or 150 people, whichever is less.
The doctors stress the provincial government needs to clearly communicate the seriousness of the current wave to residents.
If most people decrease their contacts and trips out of their home and community by even 50 per cent over the next month, there would be a “huge impact” on the health-care system and COVID-19 situation in Saskatchewan, say the MHOs.
"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,” they write.
Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, received a copy of the letter. He says the recommendations outlined by the MHOs closely align with what he’s been recommending for the public.
While COVID-19 modelling does not specify which restrictions will help alleviate ICU pressures, Shahab says anything that reduces the number of contacts and transmission is important.
Regardless of public health orders, Shahab says the public needs to voluntarily implement the recommendations.
“If we are extremely cautious over the next four weeks and then continue to be cautious for the remainder of the winter, we can really start bringing our acute care and hospitalization rates down,” Shahab said.
CTV News reached out to the Health Minister’s office for comment, but did not immediately hear back.
As of Tuesday morning, the minister had not responded to the letter, according to Neudorf.
While delivering a speech to members of the Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce on Monday, Premier Scott Moe said he will not bring in additional public health measures because it takes away people’s personal freedoms.
SASK. TEACHERS BACK MHO LETTER
The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) is supporting the MHOs’ letter.
Patrick Maze, STF president, says the calls for more restrictions closely align with what teachers were asking for back in August.
“We say the teacher needs to be vaccinated, but why are we not saying the students should also be vaccinated,” Maze said.
“We need to make sure that everyone in our schools is vaccinated in order to protect those students who can’t be vaccinated.”
Saskatoon’s public school division recently announced a proof of vaccination policy for its staff. It joins a growing list of school divisions that have already created similar policies, including in Regina.
However, Maze says he wants to see uniform directives.
“Unfortunately, the province hasn’t given strong direction to school divisions,” Maze said.
“They’ve tried to pass all these decisions down to school divisions and we end up with 27 different administrative procedures on vaccinations requirements.”
According to Maze, every school in the province has either developed or is in the process of developing proof of vaccination requirements for staff.