Best-case scenario: Saskatchewan sees 4,800 COVID-19 cases over next six months

REGINA — New modelling data from Saskatchewan's Ministry of Health says the province could see as few as 4,800 cases of COVID-19 over the next six months -- or more than 400,000.

Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab laid out the best and worst case scenarios during a briefing Thursday.

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Shahab considers the surge in cases over the last few weeks to be Saskatchewan's first actual wave of COVID-19.

He said the latest modelling figures are not a prediction of what will happen, but rather a tool for hospital officials to plan for what could happen, depending on how quickly the virus spreads.

The most positive scenario — in which 60 per cent of residents wear masks, half of the population works from home, and fewer people gather weekly — could lead to a peak of 76 infections a day, or 4,830 culminative cases over six months.

The most dire outlook — with 20 per cent of the population wearing masks, 10 per cent working from home and half socializing weekly — could result in a daily peak of about 8,390 infections, or 469,000 culminative cases over six months.

The figures were created under the assumption that schools and businesses remained opened.

"You can, through fairly simple measures, bend the curve," said Shahab.

As of Thursday, masks became mandatory to wear in indoor public spaces across the province and household gatherings were restricted to no more than five people for the next four weeks to try to curb the COVID-19 virus from spreading.

Health Minister Paul Merriman said no public health measure is off the table. The government's goal is to strike a balance between the needs of the health-care system and to keep as many people working as possible, he said.

"With a complete shutdown, it's very challenging for people to deal with that twice in one year, so we're continually adjusting our restrictions and our guidelines."

Merriman also said the province expects to receive 180,000 doses of a vaccine from the federal government early next year and would start with inoculating front-line health-care workers and seniors.

Shahab said Saskatchewan has the third-highest rate of active cases in the country and he would like to see daily cases fall to below 120.

Health officials reported 98 new infections Thursday, but said weather and other issues meant some samples didn’t arrive at the lab in time to be reflected in the daily count.

Total hospital admissions rose to 83, with a total of 21 people receiving intensive care.

Shahab said every positive infection has about 11 contacts, which has put pressure on contact tracing, particularly in Saskatoon.

"Eleven is way, way, way, way too many," said Scott Livingstone, CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

"We're putting the risk of the health-care system at stake, not just because of patients getting COVID, but because of health-care employees, physicians and all of our staff being at risk of being infected and that reduces our ability to properly care for patients."

The University of Saskatchewan said data collected by a team looking at the virus’s spread through samples of wastewater shows the city is likely to see an exponential growth of infections averaging between 100 to 150 new cases a day.

Court of Queen’s Bench also suspended jury trials scheduled between now and the rest of the year because of the rise in cases.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 19, 2020.

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