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Record high ICU admissions in Sask. has doctors suggesting an update to vaccine strategy –



Intensive care (ICU) COVID-19 hospitalizations in Saskatchewan are at an all-time high. As of Monday, a total of 47 COVID-19 patients are in ICU, with 31 of them in Regina. 

Variants of concern (VOCs) are spreading in Regina right now as well. VOCs are mutated strains of the virus that causes COVID-19 that tend to be more contagious and cause more serious illnesses.

The Regina zone accounts for 803 — or 84 per cent — of the VOC cases with confirmed lineage reported in Saskatchewan.

“The situation in Regina is certainly out of control,” said Dr. Hassan Masri, an intensive care specialist in Saskatoon.

“Unfortunately, we did allow those numbers to rise here in Saskatchewan and specifically in Regina and so now we have ICUs that are really full in Regina and potentially patients will have to be diverted to Saskatoon.”

Masri said that has not happened yet, but it is a possibility. 

Intensive care specialist Dr. Hassan Masri was one of the first people in the city of Saskatoon to get the COVID-19 vaccine. (Don Somers/CBC)

Dr. Kevin Wasko, lead physician with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), said Regina’s ICUs are at surge capacity and currently have more COVID-19 patients than those with any other illness.

He also confirmed that some people in Regina who need an ICU bed could be sent to another city if COVID-19 ICU admissions continue to rise.

People in the health care system familiar with the situation have told CBC that the breakdown of hospitalizations in Regina as of Monday is as follows:

  • Pasqua Hospital ICU: seven total beds, three positive COVID-19 patients, one recovered COVID patient.
  • Pasqua medical surveillance unit (MSU): five overflow ICU patients, zero positive COVID patients.
  • General Hospital medical ICU: ten total beds, ten positive COVID patients, one recovered COVID patient.
  • General surgical ICU: 12 total beds, 11 positive COVID patients.
  • Cardiology Care Unit at the General: 5 overflow positive COVID patients.

Wasko said ICUs in other cities like Moose Jaw and Swift Current have also added additional beds because they have “surged beyond their capacities.”

“This is real. This is filling up — literally filling up — the ICUs right now,” he said.

If ICUs reach a “breaking point,” Wasko said some people who need ICU care won’t be able to get it, although SHA can implement field hospitals if need be.

“It’s really hard for the public sometimes to understand the gravity of the situation unless you actually stepped foot in one of these overcapacity ICUs,” he said.

“If you’re not really seeing it and facing it, I think it’s sometimes hard to really appreciate how real it is.”

Wasko said it’s hard to predict when an ICU could reach a breaking point, but with more VOCs being reported around the province, “if we continue on the trajectory that we’re on, it is a matter of time.”

Recovered patients are marked as such only after they are no longer contagious, but they may still require hospital or ICU care.

LISTEN | Dr. Kevin Wasko was on CBC Saskatchewan’s Morning Edition Tuesday

The Morning Edition – Sask11:55Physician lead for Sask. Health Authority talks concerning spread of COVID-19 variants in southern parts of the province

Dr. Kevin Wasko says COVID-19 variants of concern are causing intensive care units to fill up with younger patients. 11:55

Younger people filling ICUs

“The other important story in all of this is the age group that are filling the ICUs,” Masri said. 

“We are seeing a lot of patients in their 20s, 30s and 40s … the variant, which is really rapidly spreading in Saskatchewan, seems to affect younger people much more profoundly than the original COVID virus.”

Masri said to see young people fighting for their lives in the ICU is “very disturbing and extremely unusual.”

Wasko said one of the reasons younger people are being more affected is because most elderly people in Saskatchewan have been vaccinated, which means younger people are now more vulnerable to COVID-19 and VOCs.

In light of this, Masri suggested the vaccine strategy be tweaked slightly to include essential workers sooner. 

“You know, there are people going to work every day at grocery stores or truck drivers or even people in health care who are being asked to go to work everyday and put themselves at a really high risk, but yet they may not be vaccinated for two months or three months or four months from now,” he said. 

Wasko echoed Masri’s sentiment, saying the provincial government should consider adjusting its vaccination plan to prioritize essential and front-line workers.

As for restrictions in the province, Masri said the government should revisit the opening of bubbles and the loosening of those types of restrictions. He also said rapid testing has been underutilized in the province and country. 

Masri emphasized that this is not just a Regina problem, and that the entire province should be preparing. 

Wasko, meanwhile, acknowledged that many people are tired of COVID-19 and restrictions that come with it, but said it’s more important than ever to follow the protocols and get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“We do have a lot of hope with a vaccine coming, but it will take a few months until we really can get those first doses into everybody’s arms and start to make an impact,” he said.

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Exclusive-Canada’s Ontario to expand use of AstraZeneca COVID vaccine as epidemic rages



By Allison Martell

TORONTO (Reuters) – The Canadian province of Ontario will begin offering AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday to people turning 40 or older this year, according to a government source.

The change will broaden access to vaccines as a third wave of infections threatens to overwhelm hospitals in Canada‘s most-populous province, and should make it easier to use doses that in some cases have been accumulating at pharmacies.

The change will be announced on Monday and go into effect across the province on Tuesday, according to the source. The vaccine has already been distributed to pharmacies but currently can only be given to people turning 55 or older this year.

Ontario announced new public health measures on Friday, promising checkpoints at provincial borders, new police powers and closing outdoor amenities, while leaving many workplaces open. The measures were widely criticized by doctors and public health experts, and the province quickly reopened playgrounds and modified the new police powers.

On March 29, Health Canada said it would review reports of serious blood clots and bleeding in a small number of people who had received the AstraZeneca vaccine in other countries, and an independent panel called the National Advisory Council on Immunization (NACI) recommended that it only be given to people 55 and older. All provinces followed that advice.

But NACI’s recommendations are not binding. Last week, Health Canada, the country’s drug regulator, said it had reviewed all available evidence and would not restrict the use of the vaccine, because its benefits outweigh its potential risks. Health Canada said at the time that NACI was reviewing its recommendations.

On Sunday, NACI’s chair told Reuters that the panel would make a new recommendation on Tuesday.

Health Canada said regulators in the UK had estimated the risk of clots to be very small, roughly four in a million people who receive the vaccine. It also said the complication was treatable. Two people have developed it in Canada, and both are recovering.

Several other countries have limited the use of the vaccine to older people. Denmark has withdrawn the shot, and Norway said on Thursday it would take more time to decide whether to resume use.

Ontario reported 4,250 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday. The Ontario Hospital Association said 59 patients were admitted to intensive care on Saturday, bringing the number of COVID-19 patients in ICUs to 737.

Health Canada says those who receive the vaccine should seek medical attention immediately if they experience shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling, persistent belly pain, neurological symptoms like severe headaches or blurred vision, or skin bruising or tiny blood spots under the skin beyond the site of the injection.


(Reporting by Allison Martell; Editing by Diane Craft and Peter Cooney)

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Trudeau mobilizes federal workers to battle COVID-19 in Toronto and rest of Ontario




OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Sunday he would send federal healthcare workers to help Toronto and the province of Ontario battle a third wave of COVID-19 infections that has forced shutdowns of schools and businesses.

“We are mobilizing federal healthcare workers from across government departments to deploy on the front lines in Ontario and specifically the Greater Toronto area where the situation is most critical,” Trudeau said in a video posted on Twitter.

Other provinces, especially on the Atlantic coast, are working “to determine what human resources and equipment they could free up over the coming days,” Trudeau said, adding that the federal government would cover the costs of that help.

The government will also seek to boost rapid testing, especially for essential workers, Trudeau said.

The government of Ontario, Canada‘s most-populous province and industrial powerhouse, has moved schools online and announced more stringent public health measures on Friday, including shutting the provincial borders to non-essential travel.

On Saturday, federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair deployed two mobile health units to set up more hospital beds in Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario, and the prime minister said he stood ready to send the Red Cross to staff mobile vaccination clinics in Ontario if help is requested.

Canada‘s seven-day average of new infections was 8,669, the chief medical officer said on Sunday, a 26% increase compared with the previous seven days. Ontario reported 4,250 new cases on Sunday.

Canada has been ramping up its vaccination campaign but still has a smaller percentage of its population inoculated than dozens of other countries, including the United States and Britain.

More than 48 million doses are to be delivered by the end of June, which is enough for all of Canada‘s population of some 38 million to receive at least one shot, with a total of 100 million doses expected by the end of September.


(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Canada has second case of rare blood clots after AstraZeneca vaccin



(Reuters) – Canada on Saturday reported a second case of rare blood clots with low platelets after immunization with AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine in a week, while it said it still recommended the use of the shot.

The person who experienced the very rare event has been treated and is recovering, Canada‘s health ministry said in a statement, adding that the person lives in the province of Alberta.

Based on the evidence available, Canada still maintains that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the potential risks, the statement said.

Canada health authorities “will continue to monitor the use of all COVID-19 vaccines closely and examine and assess any new safety concerns,” the statement said.

Canada reported a first blood clotting associated with the vaccine on Tuesday, and a day later, after a review, health authorities said they would not restrict use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

A separate advisory council had earlier recommended Canada stop offering the vaccine to people under 55. That panel is in the process of reviewing its advice.

Canada has been ramping up its vaccination campaign, but still has a smaller percentage of its population inoculated than dozens of other countries, including the United States and Britain.

Amid a spiking third wave of infections, Ontario, Canada‘s most populous province, announced new public health restrictions on Friday, including closing the provinces borders to domestic travelers.


(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru and Steve Scherer in Ottawa, writing by Steve Scherer; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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