We marked Thanksgiving Monday with 347 Saskatchewan people in hospital and 79 ICUs beds — normally the entire critical care complement in this province — filled with COVID-19 patients.
Monday also marked three months since we “reopened” the province by removing all masking, social distancing and public gathering restrictions.
At that time and since, Premier Scott Moe and his Saskatchewan Party government did encourage people to get vaccinated. However, his declaration just prior to July 11 that his government no longer had any interest in ever again intruding in people’s lives now speaks volumes to his unrealistic and highly politicized approach.
It wasn’t until Sept. 16 that Moe would re-implement a provincewide masking order and require proof-of-vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test to attend many public settings. By that point, far too many were already facing the intrusion of long hospital stays and, in some cases, intubations.
What is now crystal clear is Moe’s government had no meaningful plan to deal with this fourth wave — a reality only punctuated by last Thursday’s announcement of a Provincial Emergency Operations Centre (PEOC) to better align pandemic responses.
Exactly how a non-doctor-led response intends to deal with the unavailability of ICU beds wasn’t explained Thursday. (Conspicuous by his absence at the press conference was chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab who was benched for the supposedly important announcement.)
Judging by the angry response from doctors during their weekly update from Saskatchewan Health Authority medical leaders Thursday evening, it isn’t exactly clear what — if any — role the SHA had in planning this new direction that suggests this is more of a resource-deployment and/or organizational crisis than a medical one.
Worse, the introduction of the PEOC further blurs the lines of responsibility … although it should be clear that nothing should change in reality.
The buck stops with Moe and Health Minister Paul Merriman, the latter of whom — while balking at actually apologizing — said two weeks ago he takes full responsibility. Evidently, that does not include going so far as to take the ultimate responsibility for one’s actions and resign.
Of course, whether politicians should resign for poor policy/planning is shrouded in politics itself.
But for this government to refuse to accept that the fourth wave problem began with removing all restrictions on July 11 without a solid plan in place to further increase vaccinations is now a problem in itself.
The numbers speak for themselves.
In the three months since the reopening, COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan (as of Monday) increased 47 per cent from 49,260 to 72,451, accounting for 32 per cent of all the cases in the 19 months since the pandemic began in the province. Similarly, COVID-19-related deaths have increased by 178 (or 31 per cent) in that three-month period to 751 from 573.
Beyond the fact that we were repeatedly forewarned by doctors of the impact of the fourth wave, the tragedy is that the government clearly had indicators by mid- to late-August that the Delta variant was taking hold in the unvaccinated community and — most critically — that people were clearly led by the government to think the pandemic was over.
There were only 26,849 first vaccine doses doled out between July 11 and Aug. 11 — a paltry average of 866 a day. Compare that with 51,990 first doses — 1,926 per day — since Sept. 16 when Moe announced vaccine requirements to attend certain public venues like movie theatres and restaurants.
This could have all been part of Moe’s spring reopening plan. And, even if it wasn’t, something could and should have been done this summer.
What would our ICUs look like today if Moe’s May roadmap had simply required vaccine passports to public events including large sporting events as we now have?
It is hard to say for sure, but what is clear is what happened and why: Moe either didn’t have a good plan or didn’t have the political fortitude to implement one.
Look no further than today’s ICUs for the outcome.
Mandryk is the political columnist for the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.