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SHA ramps up COVID-19 response in light of case surge

The Saskatchewan Health Authority says they are escalating their efforts in the fight against COVID-19.

The health organization says it will be using the Health System Readiness Plan to guide actions being taken to contain, delay and mitigate the virus. Part of this is using their system re-deployment plan to identify services that could be slowed.

This is so that staff can be moved around to support extra contact tracing and testing, more staff to deal with COVID hospitalizations and ICU admissions, bring in additional long term care staff to support worker cohorting and outbreak management, and have extra works ready if large numbers of staff need to isolate after being in contact with a positive case.

The move comes as Saskatchewan has seen a five-fold growth of COVID-19 cases in the ICU over the last 30 days, which has province-wide ICU capacity at almost 100 per cent, with areas under pressure like Saskatoon only having three available ICU beds in the city, as of November 26th.

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To date, the SHA says they’ve been able to manage with limited impact by using bypass procedures for high volume acute care units, using surge spaces, converting hospitals to “COVID-only” locations and in some areas, small reductions in surgical volumes and pauses on admissions or acute care services.

Despite these measures, the SHA explains the current forecasted peak would require them to create 200 more hospital beds for COVID patients than currently exist in all hospitals, not counting the city of Saskatoon and Regina.

Surge plans also call for more staff to ramp up contact tracing to 450 cases per day, which would create 72,000 more hours of work for contact tracers across the province. This calculation was based on the current average number of contacts needing to be reached right now.

“Scaling up on this level is a significant challenge, so we need the public’s help to ensure we do not face the exponential growth in cases going forward that would strain our ability to scale up on the timelines required,” SHA CEO Scott Livingstone said in a news release.

“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.”

SHA also notes that these plans require highly trained medical staff, which cannot be sourced solely in the labour market. SHA says they are working with the Public Service Commission to find more staff in the province, and federally with Statistics Canada to add to contact tracing capacity.

If a service is targeted to be slowed down, either for when more staff are needed for a priority area or the spread of COVID creates a risk of SHA being able to provide necessary services, it will be announced online. 

The SHA is also reminding people that they are the primary factor in enabling the health system to meet demand, by taking precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19. This means physical distancing, hand washing, limiting bubble sizes, staying home if sick, wearing a mask in public spaces and not going to work if sick. It’s also recommended people download the Government of Canada COVID-19 alert app to protect themselves and loved ones.

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