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Sask.’s top doctor warns of high transmission in southern communities with low vaccine uptake

REGINA –

Saskatchewan’s top doctor is warning of high COVID-19 transmission in key southern communities with low vaccine uptake.

Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab says residents in Moose Jaw, Yorkton, Kamsack and Estevan are seeing high case numbers and transmission compared to other parts of the province.

As of Wednesday, all four communities have between 41 and 45 active cases in their subzones.

“COVID has really shown up on our doorstep here,” said Yorkton mayor Mitch Hippsley.

According to Hippsley, the fourth wave has hit the city the hardest. Anecdotally, he says he is hearing of more COVID-related deaths this wave than in the previous ones.

Hippsley, along with the entire city council, is fully vaccinated. He says he is trying to lead by example, but is confused why others are not following suit.

“We know how lethal the virus is and how vaccination combats that,” Hippsley said.

“It’s science. It’s black and white.”

Shahab says modeling suggests if people are not careful, the province could see another surge around January and February. He says vaccination rates need to increase, eligible residents need to get booster doses and people need to remain cautious when it comes to public gatherings.

“We need more caution [in these communities] but general caution everywhere,” Shahab said.

Saskatchewan has the lowest vaccination rate among the provinces, according to Health Canada.

“I’m not willing to accept that Saskatchewan should forever remain the province with the lowest vaccination rate,” Shahab said.

“I’m not willing to accept that we can use the excuse that we’re rural, northern or whatever excuse we want to invent.”

Roughly 86 per cent of eligible Saskatchewan residents have their first dose and 80 per cent are fully vaccinated.

However, those numbers are lower in rural parts of the province.

About 78 per cent of eligible residents are fully vaccinated in the South Central zone where Moose Jaw is located.

Seventy-three per cent are fully vaccinated in the South East zone, which includes Estevan. Seventy-seven per cent of residents have both doses in the Central East zone, which includes Kamsack and Yorkton.

“We need to go higher so that we reduce our overall hospitalizations and deaths as well as reduce our transmission by 75 per cent,” Shahab said.

If we keep current health measures and behaviours the same, according to Dr. Shahab, new daily cases could go from 100 to 25 by solely increasing second doses.

“We have already seen small pockets where there has been great leadership at a local level,” said Shahab, adding some university faculties have a vaccination rate of 99 per cent.

However, Shahab says modeling suggests if people are not careful, the province could see another surge around January and February. He says vaccination rates need to increase, eligible residents need to get booster doses and people need to remain cautious when it comes to public gatherings.

In Moose Jaw, most COVID-19 cases at schools tend to come from household transmission rather than classrooms, according to Ryan Boughen, director of education at Prairie South School Division (PSSD). Although, he says cases are “leveling off.”

Out of 7,000 students, 89 have tested positive for the virus throughout the entire pandemic.

“We never felt like it was running rampant,” Boughen said.

He says more cases in schools were popping up in September. While the division still tends to see a few cases throughout the week, recording “three cases in one day is a heavy day.”

Between Oct. 24 and Nov. 9, Boughen says 18 COVID-19 cases were reported in PSSD, which covers the area between Coronach and Craik. Seventeen of those cases were in Moose Jaw schools. Boughen says that speaks to the high transmission happening in the community.

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