The tools Sask. had to respond well to the pandemic, and how we need to use them to do so
It has been three years since the start of the COVID-19 global pandemic, which shifted how many people view and respond to viruses. Since the pandemic first hit, there have been 153,255 total cases recorded and 1,882 deaths reported due to the virus in Saskatchewan. The impacts of COVID-19, including new measures and procedures, the preparedness of all levels of government, and the effects of long-COVID, should all be examined.
It is important to reflect on the failures and successes of handling the pandemic in Saskatchewan because it will help the province, and other provinces, be prepared during the next pandemic (while this one continues course). When asked about the provincial government’s health measures and handling of the pandemic, University of Regina Associate Professor Dr. Andrew Cameron – who specializes in bacteriology, molecular genetics, and microbial ecology – stated how Saskatchewan’s ability to flatten the curve and provide testing were key in minimizing the spread of COVID-19.
Dr. Cameron explained that “By and large, things that worked really well that we can see globally was countries and provinces took the approach of testing and really flattening the curve, [they] were the most successful at protecting those who were the most vulnerable.” The flattening of the curve allowed for less pressure to be placed on health care services, and protected vulnerable individuals from being infected.
The increase in access to testing allowed health agencies to track hotspots and outbreaks of the infection as a form of prevention, not just reaction. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the world knew about six coronaviruses, which included four from the common cold, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-related coronavirus (MERS), and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). However, these types of coronaviruses were not seen as being more transmittable or even as likely to mutate compared to COVID-19.
During the 2003 outbreak of SARS, Canada became one of the most impacted countries. Canada saw roughly 400 probable and suspected cases of SARS along with 44 SARS-related deaths. This ended up preparing Canada for future coronaviruses in ways that other countries didn’t experience.
The Public Health Agency of Canada oversees infectious disease outbreaks across Canada, while each province also has its own disease control lab. Dr. Cameron explained that “provincial disease control labs [have] a huge portion of the work, and mandate to monitor and try to prevent infectious disease outbreaks.” This means that each province, including Saskatchewan, has the capability to monitor and track infectious diseases, including COVID-19, in hopes of preventing further outbreaks.
He expanded by saying that provincial control labs work together and support each other in creating networks which have been strengthened by COVID-19. Dr. Cameron described that the Public Health Agency of Canada, since the beginning of the pandemic, has sent personnel to all of the provincial labs with the goal of being more collaborative in the prevention of infectious diseases in Canada. This allows for more co-operation and collaboration among Canada’s national lab and its provincial labs.
COVID-19 is unique in its high mutability (its ability to mutate in one person once they’re infected) and high transmission rate (how fast it can pass from person to person), but also in the fact that lingering symptoms associated with the virus can continue even after people test negative.
Dr. Cameron explained that similar circumstances occurred with individuals affected by SARS, which provided Canada the opportunity to explore the long-term effects of the virus even closer. Dr. Cameron went on to say that “Those people that were infected and developed the severe disease had so much tissue damage and other damage, including neurological persistent problems, that even ten years later there were people who were not fully recovered.” This showcases that coronaviruses had the potential to leave significant lingering symptoms post-initial infection, even before COVID-19.
Dr. Cameron also highlights that long-COVID is a condition that will require more knowledge and continued learning of how COVID-19 affects people in coming decades. As of right now, the main source of protection against COVID is to keep up to date on vaccine booster shots. According to Dr. Cameron, a vaccine still “remains the best solution and intervention we have” against COVID-19.
This is a virus that still poses certain questions involving the potential for new variants, and the long-term effects the virus can have for some individuals. As a society, we have learned to adapt and respond to a pandemic during a century of heightened globalization and an era of increased technological advances. In the case of COVID-19, Canada was prepared in understanding the causes and effects of other coronaviruses, which helped in implementing public health measures.
Provincial governments across Canada, including Saskatchewan, were able to co-ordinate access to testing and the distribution of vaccines in a quick and timely manner. The scientific and medical communities were able to effectively create COVID-19 vaccines to help in the prevention of a previously unknown, highly-transmittable, and highly-mutable virus.
COVID-19 showcased how some infectious diseases can cause long-term effects to individuals, impacting many lives – including professional athletes. In a recent statement, Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said he is “still dealing with the symptoms of Long COVID [sic] and Chronic Immune Response Syndrome,” which may yet result in the captain sitting out the rest of the NHL season.
He went on to say “It has been really challenging to play through these symptoms. In the last few weeks, it has reached the point where I had no choice but to step back and concentrate on getting healthy.”
Research into treatment and potential risk factors for long-COVID have become important in helping individuals back to health. It’s critical that, as a society, we reflect on the effectiveness of health measures, the preparedness of our country and the international community, and the lasting impacts that this virus has left and will continue to leave on us.