Prince Albert, Sask., health system 'may not make it through' COVID-19 surge, medical health officer says

Dr. Khami Chokani was on call over the long weekend when a three-month-old was admitted to the hospital in Prince Albert, Sask. with COVID-19.

“It’s very painful to have that,” he said.

“Right now, we have 12 critical care beds for children, pediatric beds. On any given day in the last three weeks, four of those 12 beds have been occupied by COVID-positive kids.”

Chokani, the medical health officer for Prince Albert, presented to City Council on Tuesday evening. Afterwards, council unanimously passed a motion to make masks mandatory in city-run facilities and on public transit to prevent COVID-19 transmission.

Chokani said the local acute care system will be overwhelmed within two weeks. That’s based on skyrocketing cases in the region over the past few months and that trend will continue without further preventative measures, he said.

“We are really under imminent threat. Our system may not make it through.”

He said children needing hospital care because of COVID-19 are using resources needed for premature babies, for example.

But that’s not an issue limited to kids.

“People will still have their heart attacks; people will still have their strokes. They still do require those beds. If those beds are taken up by COVID patients, it means that one more person doesn’t have access to that high quality care,” Chokani said.

“My team and others are really quite exhausted. Without us having those province-wide mandates, the teams are really feeling defeated.”

The Saskatchewan government lifted all COVID-19 public health measures in July, but has been encouraging municipalities to implement restrictions based on cases in their areas.

The province got rid of restrictions based on hitting a 70 per cent first-dose vaccine target for those who are eligible – but Chokani says Prince Albert still hasn’t hit the 85 per cent target needed for herd immunity.

“We definitely do need vaccination there, but vaccination will only give us any impact at 14 days. This is where masking comes in because masking does occur right away.”

Chokani said restrictions need to be put back in place because of the “voracious appetite” of the Delta variant.

Non-medical face masks will be mandatory in city facilities and on transit starting Friday.

The city is also working on a plan for proof of a negative COVID-19 test for people who are not fully vaccinated entering city facilities – both for the public and employees.

“By now, I would have expected to see much higher vaccination rates in our region,” Mayor Greg Dionne said.

“With the rise in COVID-19 cases, our ICUs are full. We have to go back to the protection measures that worked for us, and one of the most effective measures is masks.”

There are some exceptions to the city’s mask mandate, including for people practicing or competing in sports and aquatic activities. 

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