COVID-19 management through Sask. PEOC reduced to ‘minimum to nil’

Health Minister Paul Merriman said the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre has been winding down over the last month

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Saskatchewan’s emergency management centre that was tasked with overseeing the province’s COVID-19 response has been reduced to “minimum to nil,” according to Health Minister Paul Merriman.

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While Merriman told reporters on Wednesday the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre still exists, it has been winding down over the last month.

“It’s just not operating in the same capacity,” he said. “PEOC was more outside the walls of the health-care system versus inside.”

In October, the province announced PEOC would lead the emergency management response to COVID-19 to “better co-ordinate” between ministries and staff.

For several months, members of the centre held weekly briefings with media to provide an update on COVID-19 in Saskatchewan.

When the province announced it was removing all remaining health measures in February, it stated PEOC operations would be winding down.

Merriman said as health workers began moving back into their original positions, the ministry and the Saskatchewan Health Authority felt they were in a comfortable position to take over management.

He said the province is open to bring PEOC back to manage COVID-19 if needed.

“Right now, we’re managing,” he said. “The challenges of our health-care system are there, but PEOC’s role was more external to the health-care system and the distribution and the logistics.”

During question period in the legislature, the NDP charged the province hasn’t been transparent — something Merriman refuted.

Health critic Vicki Mowat told reporters the timing of bringing in PEOC and winding it down is “questionable.”

“It just points to the lack of transparency from this government, the lack of their leadership on the COVID file,  and also not communicating to the people of the province,” she said.

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Mowat has called on the province to bring back regular reporting of COVID-19 numbers to help people make informed decisions.

“Let’s keep a steady approach here,” she said. “Let’s communicate with folks about what’s happening in the province.”

However, the province has said weekly reporting provides a more complete picture of the situation in Saskatchewan. So far, Saskatchewan has not decided to move to monthly reporting.

Despite this move, Mowat said pressures continue to affect the system, whether it’s workers being burned out or people seeing surgical delays.

Acknowledging the challenges faced by the health system and the impact it’s had on people’s lives, Merriman said the province is trying to alleviate the pressure.

“That’s why we’ve got the budgetary dollars to be able to get our system exactly back on track,” he said.

Over the past few weeks, Merriman said PEOC was only organizing rapid tests and making sure they were distributed.

With the second booster becoming available, he said there is some work to ensure pharmacies and clinics are prepared for the rollout.

“Their role is minimized but they’re still active,” he said. “They were active with the storm out in the Maple Creek area. In the storm that’s happening in the southeast, I’m sure PEOC will be involved in that.”

To ease pressure on the system, he encouraged people to get their booster shot as a way to help prevent them from having to be hospitalized for COVID-19.

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