REGINA -- The Saskatchewan Health Authority estimates anywhere from 153,000 to 408,000 Saskatchewan residents will be infected by COVID-19 in models released on Wednesday.

The “upper-range” scenario includes 408,000 cases and 8,370 deaths. The “mid-range” scenario estimates 262,000 cases with 5,260 deaths. Finally, the “low-range” scenario predicts 153,000 cases and 3,075 deaths during the course of the pandemic.

The model predicts that one person who tested positive for COVID-19 will infect four people in the high-range scenario, 2.76 people in the mid-range scenario and 2.4 people in the low-range scenario.

“It is too early for us to know the exact scenario we are in,” said Dr. Jenny Basran, Senior Medical Information Officer with the SHA.

The province's chief medical health officer said it will require a lot of commitment to control transmission rates.

“The modelling obviously gives us three projections,” Dr. Saqib Shahab said on Wednesday afternoon. “Scenario one is quite a significant scenario, two is a mid-range scenario and three, which is quite positive. Right now, actually we want to be better than even scenario three and at this pint we seem to be better than scenario three.”

Lifting restrictions still weeks away

The SHA also says it doesn't have enough data at this point to know when the virus could peak or when public health mesasures could be lifted.

Decisions on lifting the measures would be made by Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer.

At the province’s daily update, Premier Scott Moe said Saskatchewan is still several weeks away from beginning the process of lifting restrictions. He also said the restrictions will be lifted slowly.

“It will occur incrementally and it will occur thoughtfully,” he said.

Moe added he’s encouraged by case numbers over the past week, adding the SHA is preparing for a potential surge from the virus in the coming weeks.

“They’re using these projections to ramp up healthcare in this province,” he said.

Saskatchewan NDP leader Ryan Meili said the modelling shows some “stark numbers” and said residents should see them as a “call to action.”

“We must do everything we can to flatten the curve and look after the many people who are struggling right now,” he said.

Saskatchewan Government estimates our population to be 1,181,666 as of Jan. 1 2020.

Based on COVID-19 modelling of infections in Saskatchewan, the percentage rate of infection in the population could be:

  • Upper-range scenario: 34.5 per cent of the population
  • Mid-range scenario: 22.2 per cent of the population
  • Low-range scenario: 13 per cent of the population

“As we enter a new month, the reality is hitting home — Saskatchewan is not immune,” the report said. “We can expect more cases and deaths.”

Acute surge capacity

The report shows two scenarios for acute surge capacity — a planned capacity based on patient demand in the mid- to high-range model and a contingency capacity based on higher range estimates of patient demands.

The report shows Integrated Northern Health and Integrated Rural Health will not have the capacity needed for ICU beds under the planned capacity, meaning critical care patients from rural and north would be transferred to urban sites when needed.

Hospitals in Regina and Saskatoon have increased their ICU capacity to prepare for more patients.

Following public health orders

The SHA says the public will need to continue to follow public health orders closely in order to help the health system respond to the pandemic.

“The key variable for saving lives and protecting health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic is public compliance with prescribed isolation measures, physical distancing, effective hand washing and staying home,” the SHA said in a news release.

The modelling also shows the current measures are making a difference, the SHA says.

“Our job as a health care system is to provide care for those in need and to be ready for any scenario,” SHA CEO Scott Livingstone said in the release. “While we understand Canadian data is starting to show some hopeful signs about flattening the curve on COVID-19, it is critical to remember not to be complacent. We need to continue to escalate our response to ensure we are prepared for the worst case scenarios and we need the public to help us avoid those scenarios.”

Strategies outlined in report

The models provide a range of “what if scenarios,” the SHA says.

Key strategies outlined in the report include increasing testing, identifying cases early, expanding contact tracing capacity, enforcing health orders and using data tools to manage cases, clusters and outbreaks.

The SHA has created 38 testing sites across the province and tripled staff for contact tracing efforts in order to find and prevent community transmission. Five assessment sites are also currently in place, with 21 more planned to open soon.

The acute care system has plans to add capacity and the SHA says it will phase in 57 per cent more capacity in the coming weeks in order to handle increased COVID-19 hospitalizations.

The SHA says the next phase of its pandemic response includes creating dedicated spaces for COVID-19 patients, designating COVID-19 hospitals and adding acute care capacity through field hospitals in Regina and Saskatoon.

The health authority says 20 out of 65 hospitals would be dedicated to the pandemic response if needed.

The SHA says these measures won’t come into effect immediately and are in addition to measures already in place. Any measures would be activated in a staged manner, and communities would be informed of any changes.

Derek Miller, Emergency Operations Centre lead, said the SHA currently has 450 ventilators, which would meet the low- and mid-range model needs. The health authority has place an order for another 410 ventilators and Miller says 200 of those orders have been confirmed. One-hundred ventilators are expected to be arriving in the next two weeks.

As of April 5, 43 per cent of the province’s acute care beds were available because of the SHA shutting down non-essential services. The SHA says it will make sure essential services will remain available throughout the pandemic.

“We wanted to be transparent with the plan going forward so the public is aware of the escalated measures we will put into place if needed, but it is critical to remember that many of the changes proposed in this plan will be implemented only in response to anticipated surges in patient demand that start to exceed our capacity,” Livingstone said. “Changes like conversion to COVID-19-dedicated hospitals will only occur where it is absolutely required to ensure safety and maintain access for patients who need our care.”

The modelling also says it’s important to protect health care workers and first responders and screen long-term care homes.

'All in this together'

Saskatchewan residents are asked to continue practicing good hygiene, following provincial self-isolation and gathering size guidelines, using medical supplies effectively and avoiding visiting hospitals and long-term care homes.

“We are all in this together. We are all playing for the same team,” Dr. Julie Kryzanowski, Senior Medical Health Officer, said. “We need the sustained support from the public to bend that curve.”

“No health system in the world can manage this challenge without the sustained help of the general public,” SHA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Susan Shaw said. “To save lives, Saskatchewan residents need to do their best to stay healthy and strong and abide by the restrictions and guidelines for the general public around COVID-19. Demand will exceed our capacity as a health system if we are not diligent about these measures.”

The models are based on experiences from other Canadian provinces and information around the world. The SHA says it will continue to update its modelling as more information becomes available.

Read the full report here: