As mandates continue to ease, Meadow Lake’s top doc is unmasking the truth about COVID-19 in his community.

“COVID is still very active in Meadow Lake,” remarked Dr. Gavin Van de Venter, chief of staff at the Meadow Lake Hospital. “We continue to have deaths in our town and hospitalizations remain stable. I do believe the numbers are going to start decreasing, but there is a new variant identified we know very little about.”

According to reports, infectious disease experts are keeping a close eye on a more contagious version of the omicron variant. The virus, known as BA.2, is a strain of the highly contagious omicron variant that appears to spread even more easily — about 30 per cent more easily.

“If this variant does become prominent, it might mean backstepping on the easement of restrictions,” Van de Venter added.

Van de Venter also said residents and staff at Northland Pioneers Lodge continue to feel the impact of a recent COVID outbreak.

“In spite of the risk to our elderly, we still have people coming to visit family at the lodge who refuse to wear face masks, refuse to be assessed before coming into the facility and assault our nursing care staff,” Van de Venter noted. “Attacking, insulting and disrespecting nurses, care aides and doctors is unacceptable. Instances where the public ignores guidelines and public safety measures have contributed to people becoming very ill and, in some cases, the death of residents. It has also led to staff being off because of illness, and also staff resigning as they don’t want to be abused by the public. Our long-term care facility is severely short on staff and not able to give the care required.”

He also added the vaccination rate for Meadow Lake and area remains low.

“It’s still a hair above 60 per cent, second worst in the country,” he said. “This is dismal and we will never reach herd immunity in our region if people don’t get vaccinated.”

Still, Van de Venter remains optimistic.

“As I have stated before, we are all so sick and tired of this virus,” he said. “This has been shown by the frustrated protesters (in Ottawa and other parts of the world) and others. We (health care workers) hope the number of vaccinated and naturally immune people will be enough to hold it at bay and allow us to return to a semblance of normality.”

Even though the mask mandate will end in Saskatchewan Feb. 28, Van de Venter said they will still be required at some locations including medical facilities such as the hospital or clinic.

“I am excited to once again enjoy the privileges of life, but I caution myself it is a privilege and can be taken away at the snap of a finger,” he said.

by Phil Ambroziak