Saskatchewan is in talks with Ontario about the potential to transfer COVID-19 ICU patients out-of-province if needed. 

The announcement was made during an update from the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre (PEOC) to the media on Wednesday. 

“While we continue to work to maximize our critical care resources in Saskatchewan and keep our patients as close to home as possible, it is critical we have contingency plans in place should the situation change,” said Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency President Marlo Pritchard. 

“That is why we really appreciate the willingness of Ontario to engage with us on these discussions, but hopefully we will never have to use them.” 

Although no patients have been transferred out of province yet, Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone said it won’t take much to get us to that point. 

“We are already over our capacity in ICU, so any major events, including as an example, about a week ago we had 11 admissions to Regina General Hospital ICU within a 24-hour period. If that were to happen again, we would be triaging patients and sending out-of-province. We would hit our capacity mark,” he said. 

Agencies such as air ambulances and highly-trained teams of paramedics have also been preparing in case transfers need to take place. 

For the time being, services will continue to be slowed down and some patients will receive care on the ward if no ICU beds are available. 

“These are individuals that would typically see probably higher levels of acuity and care in the hospitals that are being treated on the ward with skilled staff that we've upskilled throughout the pandemic,” Livingstone said. 

The province is also expecting to receive 1.9 million rapid test kits this week. About 1 million of the testing kits will go towards the SHA’s Test to Protect program in schools, long-term care homes, personal care homes, correctional facilities, health care workers, and businesses registered in the SHA’s workplace surveillance program. 

The remaining kits will be distributed to the public through several channels including fire departments, chambers of commerce, hotels, Saskatchewan Public Safety agency regional bases and SHA testing assessment centres. 

“But I do want to note that, if the past is any indication, we know that these kits will be claimed quickly and that demand may outpace supply. These kits do not come individually packaged, but are bundled in groups I believe of five, so it will not take long for them to be distributed,” Pritchard said. 

Saskatchewan has asked the federal government for 1 million rapid test kits per month in order to maintain a supply. 

In order to take the pressure off of police services enforcing public health orders, public health inspectors will have an enhanced role. The province is also contracting retired police officers that can do investigations and write reports so that specialized training isn’t needed to bring more resources in. 

Secure isolation sites are being re-established within the province for those who are required to self-isolate but are not following directions from the medical health officer and, through a legislative process, are being ordered to be detained. 

Isolation sites were closed down in July after the public health orders were lifted. They came into effect because community leaders reached out to police or the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency because community members were refusing to follow health orders and putting others at risk. 

As a reminder, voluntary assisted self-isolations sites are still available for those who do not have a safe place to isolate and have tested positive for COVID-19, are waiting for test results or have been identified as a close contact by public health. 

These sites are located in Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina and efforts are usually made to keep people as close to their home community as possible.