Living with COVID is an interesting sentiment.
I understand the yearning of our politicians and citizens alike who want to put the pandemic behind us and leave what feels like an unending state of crisis after crisis. I do worry, however, that this reframing might diminish the harsh reality that many Saskatchewan residents continue to get gravely sick, and several others will pass away from what is in essence a preventable disease.
Living with COVID may also mean that for many people in this province, the health care system may not be there for them when they need it. Physicians are eyewitnesses to a health care system that has been stretched and strained to its limits by the Omicron variant. COVID-related hospitalizations have reached record highs. Some health workers have simply left the field and many of those who remain are tired and weary. There are situations where too few staff are caring for too many patients due to the pandemic.
Physicians are mindful of these impacts, which will likely take years to overcome. We are also concerned about COVID’s long-term effects on our patients and the health care system. Patients who are waiting for necessary treatments and procedures are suffering. Physicians worry whether there will be sufficient resources in place to deliver the care patients need over the long term.
Managing the impact of Omicron cannot be lost as we learn to live with COVID. Thankfully, we have vaccines. They work. As our medical experts tell us, vaccines (especially third doses) are the most important intervention we have as we return to normalcy.
If we have one ask of Saskatchewan residents, it is to get vaccinated, whether that is your first, second, or booster dose. We ask that you protect your children by getting them vaccinated. Living with COVID will, at least for the foreseeable future, mean continuing to wear your best mask, limiting your contacts, and when sick, testing yourself and stay home.
Like you, physicians look forward to a day when public health measures can be lifted, but caution this should only happen when it is safe to do so. We need to see steady declines in COVID cases and wastewater transmission data. Hospitalizations should drop into the low double digits, and ICUs have fewer than 10 COVID-19 patients.
We are all tired of the pandemic. However, our individual and collective responsibilities remain – whether it is beating COVID or living with it. We must all do our part.
Dr. Eben Strydom is president of the Saskatchewan Medical Association.