Internal Sask government document estimates 'worst case scenario' of up to 15,000 deaths in province

March 25, 2020, 6:48 am


CBC is reporting that an internal Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) document says "COVID-19 will almost certainly overwhelm" the province's health system.

"Demand for acute services will exceed existing capacity for hospital beds, ICU beds, ventilators as well as creating a major burden on other acute services, supports, HR, supplies, and equipment," reads the March 20 PowerPoint presentation.

The presentation, titled COVID-19 Planning Doc: Strategy for Continuity of Health Services and Surge Capacity, was circulated among SHA employees.

An SHA spokesperson said Tuesday that the province is still refining its modelling to ensure the province has the best information possible about what capacity the health care system will need.

"This was a draft document based on early modelling and worst case scenarios," the spokesperson said.

An earlier statement from the province's chief medical health officer suggests otherwise, however.

"Over the course of 12 to 18 months, 30 to 70 percent of us will get COVID-19," Dr. Saqib Shahab said at March 18 news conference.

The province is scheduled to hold another news conference Tuesday afternoon.

The document does note that, "more accurate modelling is anticipated in the coming days," but says that action must be taken regardless.

"Even if there was a 50 per cent error rate, we still need to do this," it says.

Model based on 30 per cent infection rate

One page, titled "Key takeaways on incoming demand," estimates 9,000 to 15,000 people will die from the virus in the province.

"Early social distancing will delay and lessen the peak of the outbreak. However, even under conservative assumptions, COVID-19 will almost certainly overwhelm the health system."

The same page says that "over the course of the event," if 30 per cent of the province's population is infected, approximately 15,000 people will require ICU beds.

It says Saskatchewan currently has 109 intensive-care (ICU) beds province-wide.

The document outlines a plan to significantly expand COVID-19 bed capacity to around 2,900 beds through the use of field hospitals at potential sites including gymnasiums, leased commercial space, community centres and arenas.

The province's mission statement is stated as follows:

"SHA acute services will adapt and expand to meet the projected COVID-19 patient demand while continuing to deliver acute services to non-pandemic patients throughout the duration of the pandemic in order to minimize loss of life."

One page suggests using rinks to house casualties.

Ryan Meili reacts to estimates

Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili offered his take on the estimates shortly after they were made public.

"I think the government should be sharing all of the information they have if they have modelling about what's likely to happen under different scenarios," Meili said.

"That projection would likely be a conservative projection based on a certain model. So if we do the things we're doing now, that's the kind of numbers we might expect to see. But we don't have to see that. This is a critical moment. This is the moment at which we decide which track we're on."

First recoveries expected soon

Amidst a still-increasing curve of COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan — 66 in total now — the chief medical health officer has some good news to share about the pandemic's status in the province Monday.

"We are now at the point where some of our initial cases are going to be screened," said Dr. Saqib Shahab said in a news conference. "And if they are well, they'll be reported as recovered. We will be getting that information towards the end of this week."

The province announced its first case of the novel coronavirus on March 12: a 60-year-old man who had recently travelled to Egypt and tested positive in Saskatoon on March 9.

Patients will be declared recovered once they test negative on a subsequent test, the health ministry has previously said.

As of Friday — when there were only 26 reported cases — the vast majority of those cases (24) were well enough to self-isolate at home.

No such insights have been offered since.

Regular updates on in-hospital patients coming

On Monday, Shahab said updates on how many cases are in hospital versus how many are self-isolating at home will be provided at least twice a week.

There are at least two COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan hospitals, according to the latest information provided. Both are there because of pre-existing medical conditions.

However, the Saskatchewan Health Authority has not answered whether either of those cases has needed to go into intensive care, citing patient privacy concerns.

Dr. Susan Shaw said Monday that she did not have that information, and that if she did, "it would not be appropriate to share it because of the importance of protecting our patients' personal health information."

In a later note, Jim Billington, press secretary for Premier Scott Moe, said "it is our intent to provide information for the total number of cases in hospital and the total number of cases requiring ICU admission, when the information is reported [to the minister by the Saskatchewan Health Authority]."

CBC News has directly re-asked the health authority whether any patients are now under intensive care.