There's an increased risk of preventable deaths in Saskatchewan due to the dire state of the intensive care units, which are being pushed beyond their limits due to COVID-19, doctors were told at a physicians town hall.
The severely challenged ICU system is unlikely to get better until at least December, the town hall held by the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) on Thursday revealed. And any improvements will depend on public health orders.
Vaccinations, mask mandates and the proof-of-vaccination policy have helped to reduce the rate of growth of COVID-19 in the province, but it's still growing exponentially, the SHA said.
It's recommending that gathering restrictions be brought in for households and businesses.
Saskatchewan remains the province with the highest COVID-19 case rates and COVID-19 deaths per capita over the past seven days.
Another slide presented during the town hall indicates that as of Oct. 11, there were 17 children hospitalized for COVID-19.
That is more than any other time during the COVID-19 pandemic.
ICUs in dire situation
One slide from the SHA briefing showed that the seven-day average of COVID-19 patients in the province's ICUs is the highest per capita of any province, at any time during the pandemic.
The province reported 322 COVID-19 patients in hospital on Thursday, 76 of whom are currently in ICUs.
Although that's down from a record high of 85 COVID-19 patients in ICUs reported on Monday, the province is nowhere close to being in the clear. The ICUs also have other patients. And the SHA can only take 116 ICU patients in total.
As of 7:30 a.m. on Thursday, the province was reporting 117 people in the province's ICUs, or just one patient above the 116 bed benchmark.
LISTEN | Health care policy analyst on how Sask. can avoid bleak outcomes:
That's why the SHA is transferring ICU patients to Ontario. Three patients are scheduled to be transferred by Sunday, bringing the total number of out-of-province transfers to nine this week.
In addition, there are 57 COVID-19 patients in hospital receiving high-flow oxygen who would normally be receiving intensive care if there was space available.
Saskatchewan's doctors are already making "ethical choices" about the levels of care patients receive, the SHA said at the town hall.
The SHA briefing made clear it's not just the number of ICU beds that are being pushed to their limits.
There is also a shortage of ICU staff, the SHA said, adding it's asked the federal government for help and is exploring options.