REGINA -- The Saskatchewan Health Authority is heightening its response to COVID-19 after reporting ICU capacity is nearing 100 per cent in the province.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, health authority officials said it will be adding additional staff to help people being hospitalized for COVID-19 and for contact tracing and testing.

The move comes after the SHA reported a five-fold growth in COVID-19 cases in ICUs over the last thirty days, causing capacity to reach nearly 100 per cent.

Currently, 27 per cent of the province’s intensive care capacity is being used for COVID-19 patients. It had been five per cent in October.

With other health services being offered, the average daily ICU capacity in Saskatchewan sits at a little more than 97 per cent.

The health authority said pressure points in Saskatoon as of Thursday are leaving only two available ICU beds in the city.

“Right now, we have 35 Covid patients in our regular hospital beds in Saskatoon and only two available ICU beds if their conditions deteriorate,” said Derek Miller, the executive director of infrastructure management with the SHA.

The SHA needs to create about 200 more beds for COVID-19 patients than what currently exists in all hospitals outside of Saskatoon and Regina.

As for contact tracing, the agency said it needs to add staff to enable effective tracing for 450 cases per day and possibly more.

It said 450 cases per day would create 72 thousand hours of work for contact tracers over a two-week time span, or an average of more than five thousand hours per day.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Susan Shaw said the situation in hospitals is something she’s never seen before.

“Our staff are doing really well and we are tired,” she said. “People are really sick. They require a lot of care and we are there for them and are going to be there for them. We have additional plans for how many people we can look after safely. What patients really need is staff.”

SHA CEO Scott Livingstone said scaling up to meet increased pressure will be a significant challenge.

He urged people to follow public health orders and safety measures to help avoid a further spike in cases.

“As an example, surging our ICU capacity by 449 per cent means adding more ICU beds than there are in all four of Canada’s Atlantic provinces combined, all on an expedited timeline while operating under the extreme duress of the pandemic, illustrating the scope of our task if we do not get help from the public,” he said.

On top of the plans, the SHA said it needs additional long-term care staff to support co-horting and outbreak management.

It also needs to be responsive in case a large number of staff are required to isolate.

Up to this point, the SHA has been able to manage surges through existing capacity and by adapting services.

These adaptations of services include the use of bypass procedures for high volume acute care units, use of surge spaces, the conversion of hospitals to COVID-only hospitals and temporary pauses on admissions and other acute care services in some areas, it said. 

Small reductions in surgical volumes have also been required in Saskatoon, it added.

However, the high case loads will cause more hospitalizations and ICU admissions in the days ahead, the SHA said. This will mean stepping up current efforts by having additional staff.

There are plans in place for more than 1,300 acute care patients, which is 61 per cent of acute care capacity. There are also plans to meet 412 ICU patients, which is 449 per cent of current capacity.

It’s possible up to 403 patients will need ventilators. The province has 631 ventilators available.

The province will utilize field hospitals as a last resort should current hospitals become too crowded.

The SHA said it’s working to add staff from the province and utilize Statistics Canada to help with contact tracing.

Staff will also be re-deployed, causing service slowdowns in some areas.

The health authority will notify the public of any service reductions through this webpage.

With the recent surge in cases, the SHA is reminding the public to help stop the spread of COVID-19. This includes:

  • Physical distancing.
  • Washing hands regularly.
  • Limiting bubble as much as possible.
  • Abiding by all public health orders.
  • Wearing a mask whenever in public indoor settings.
  • Staying home if feeling even the mildest symptoms as an increasing number of cases are residents going to work when sick.
  • Downloading the Government of Canada COVID Alert App and use it to protect yourself and your loved ones.