Experts call for action against the proliferation of Omicron ahead of a government COVID-19 update scheduled for Thursday morning.
Saskatchewan reported 293 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total number of active cases to 1,645. There are now 66 confirmed Omicron cases and 956 presumed Omicron cases in the province.
“The numbers are not a surprise at all. It was expected, and that’s what we’re seeing,” said Nazeem Muhajarine, a professor of public health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan’s college of medicine.
“We may be at the beginning of an exponential growth.”
The provincial government is expected to publish a public health announcement on Thursday. A bulletin from the Prime Minister’s Office said that Prime Minister Scott Moe and Health Minister Paul Merriman will hold an update at. 11:00 “to announce changes related to testing and isolation and provide an update on key indicators related to case numbers, including hospitalizations.”
Muhajarine said the latest provincial and federal data reveal a curve with a steep rise, with the seven-day average experiencing an exponential rise.
He said it was too early to predict whether Saskatchewan would see increases like Ontario and Quebec, but “Saskatchewan is heading that way as it does not take much for Omicron to take over.”
Cases are underreported
“We’re probably just looking at the top of the Omicron iceberg,” said Dennis Kendel, a health policy adviser. Saskatoon tomorrow.
“Only 992 tests were performed during the previous 24 hours, a test positivity of 16.3%. When the test positivity for PCR testing is so high, we know we are missing a lot of cases.”
Kendel said that although the provincial government deserves the credit for making rapid antigen testing widely available to the public for free, not many people follow up on a positive result, which involves having a formal PCR test done.
“Especially people in rural areas just do not drive in to get the test done. They are very positive, but we do not count them because they do not get a PCR test,” he said.
Muhajarine agrees that Saskatchewan, like other provinces, is undoubtedly underreporting cases, but the degree is uncertain – and this is also due in part to the lack of PCR testing to confirm positive results on rapid tests.
“Our test regimen is not normal. Our PCR test regimen is compromised just like in Ontario and Quebec,” he said.
“In Saskatchewan, maybe not to that degree, but we’re approaching the stage where our PCR testing capabilities are being questioned and compromised.”
The government’s “laissez-faire, see and wait approach” needs to change
Muhajarine said Saskatchewan is the only province that has taken the “most tangible and very flawed approach at any point during the pandemic,” even beating Alberta, in his opinion.
He said Prime Minister Scott Moe and Health Minister Paul Merriman, during periods of absolute need for health care, have taken a “look and wait” approach.
Kendel reasoned with that thought.
“When you wait too long, there are deaths that can be prevented and a lot of human suffering that can be prevented,” he said.
“I am very unhappy with the passive approach that our government is currently taking. I do not expect anything to happen tomorrow.”
Muhajarine says the critical point of action may even already be over.
“There is an optimal time to introduce measures such as the collection of restrictions and capacity limits during a pandemic increase. We are past the optimal time in Saskatchewan,” Muhajarine said.
Muhajarine said these measures should have been introduced as COVID figures were low. He said clear signs of the impending storm were there as other provinces and jurisdictions around the world reported their first case of Omicron.
“Moe, who comes from rural Saskatchewan and has an agricultural background, should know how to protect your herd when there is a tornado heading directly towards you,” he said. “Instead, they have taken a rather laissez-faire approach, see and wait. “
Need for restrictions as the risk continues
While Muhajarine hopes the government can announce some measures that limit collection sizes, Kendel thinks otherwise.
“There is some likelihood that our prime minister will actually entertain the CDC’s policy of reducing isolation time. If that happens, I will be really disappointed,” Kendel said.
Kendel said that although the reported symptoms of Omicron so far have been mild, recent data from the United States suggests an increase in pediatric admissions by 30 percent.
6:42Makes sense of the province’s reported over 800 suspected / confirmed Omicron cases
“It is unlikely that we will escape this. We will see a significant increase in admissions, especially pediatric admissions,” Kendel said.
“We have very clear visibility criteria when we have to close a highway down in a snowstorm. That’s what I would like our government to do, but they are sitting in silence.”
Muhajarine agrees, saying that since the variant’s infection rate is high, “it will be more than what hospital systems can manage to get out of the fourth wave.”
“One of the biggest things I hope for is the collection constraints and the capacity constraints along with some consideration for children and teachers,” Muhajarine said.
“I hope the government will work with school boards to keep students and teachers safe and introduce online learning in a few weeks.”
Muhajarine advises residents to stick to their own household bubbles and, if necessary, another fully vaccinated household. He suggests getting booster shots to boost the immune response.