Saskatchewan’s premier and health minister say the decision to shift to weekly reports on COVID-19 data was the result of a “clinical decision” and recommendation from the province’s top doctor.
The province moved from a daily reporting structure through a COVID-19 dashboard to weekly reports published online on Feb. 10.
According to Health Minister Paul Merriman, that reporting structure was a recommendation made by Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab.
“This is what Dr. Shahab has recommended we report out,” Merriman told the legislature during question period on Monday.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health confirmed that the recommendation from Shahab was made at the end of January.
On Tuesday, Merriman reiterated that the change in policy was Shahab’s recommendation. The health minister said he no longer receives daily updates on COVID-19 cases.
“To be clear, I do not get any information prior to Thursday,” the day the reports come out, he said. “I see it Thursday prior to it going out to the public.”
NDP health critic Vicki Mowat said that raises question about the heath minister’s judgment.
“Make no mistake that this is an attempt to hide the information from Saskatchewan people,” Mowat said.
More transparency, information needed: NDP
The response from the health minister comes as the province’s Official Opposition is calling for a return to a more frequent reporting structure.
The epidemiological reports published by the provincial government every Thursday often share data that is nearly a week old by the time it is published, meaning any real-time analysis is impossible.
The latest report, issued March 3, provided information on key metrics such as deaths, cases and vaccination up to Feb. 26 — information that is 10 days old as of Tuesday.
Mowat said giving people less information about hospitalizations and death rates doesn’t make sense at this point in the pandemic.
The decision means people are unable to make their own risk assessments around COVID-19, she said.
On Tuesday, she called for the province to release Shahab’s recommendations so that the claims could be independently confirmed.
“If there’s nothing to hide, there should be no problem releasing the full set of recommendations that have been provided,” she said.
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Despite the calls from the NDP, the request to reintroduce a regular reporting timetable appears unlikely to be granted by the government.
Premier Moe said the decision was based on health recommendations and was part of a broader move to treat COVID-19 like other communicable diseases.
,[It] also provides a number of resources now that are available in public health to start to regain some focus on some of the other important work that public health does across the province,” Moe said.
On Tuesday, Merriman said the provincial response to COVID-19 will continue to change, with the province planning to wind down the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre. It has been in charge of managing Saskatchewan’s response to COVID-19 since October 2021.
February 3rd-deadliest month of pandemic
On Monday, Mowat repeatedly pressed Merriman to disclose up-to-date data, including the number of people in hospital with COVID-19, how many of those were in the ICU and how many people had died of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours.
Merriman did not provide an answer.
Instead, he thanked the province’s health-care workers for their ongoing efforts and highlighted the government’s response to the pandemic.
The most recent report said 44 people died of COVID-19 from Feb. 20 to Feb 26.
That brought the total number of COVID-19 deaths from Feb. 1 to Feb. 26 to 142, according to the provincial government.
That made February the third-deadliest month of the entire pandemic, even with two days worth of data left to be counted.
There are 1,134 people known to have died in Saskatchewan from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to the latest data from the province.
The next batch of data on COVID-19 is set to be released on March 10.