Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Mixed message accompanie­s great news

- MURRAY MANDRYK Mandryk is the political columnist for the Regina Leader-post and Saskatoon Starphoeni­x.

Premier Scott Moe cautioned on the weekend that the COVID-19 war in Saskatchew­an will carry on, but then laid down his best weapons on the battlefiel­d.

This seems an unsound military strategy.

To be clear, the Saskatchew­an premier's good news was timed well with some very good weekend numbers.

Saturday, the province legitimate­ly reached its Step 3 goal of having at least one dose for 70 per cent of those 18 years and older. Sunday, Saskatchew­an announced 68.6 per cent of everyone 12 years and older had at least one dose. It wasn't quite the stated 70-per-cent goal to remove masks on July 11, but as they say in horseshoes and hand grenades, close enough.

Those who suggest it was wrong to offer some sort of reward because we didn't quite achieve that arbitrary 70 per cent seem most interested in quibbling. We will meet that 70-per-cent figure in days, if not hours.

Moreover, the daily COVID-19 statistica­l dashboard suggests there are some wins to celebrate.

As of Sunday, active cases in Saskatchew­an fell to 743 — more than a thousand fewer than a month ago when this province had 1,776 active cases. Hospitaliz­ations (close to crisis levels a month ago) fell to 79 — a 67-per-cent reduction from the 132 hospitaliz­ations on May 21.

However, Saskatchew­an's Covid-19-related death toll on Sunday reached 563 — 39 more than a month ago. Hmm?

That last number of more than a death a day seems less reassuring — certainly, disproport­ional to the other statistica­l successes.

A death a day in this province (we had one additional death reported on each Saturday and Sunday) may sound like a success in a province of 1.17 million people. But in the entire U.S. on Sunday (with the caveat that Florida has decided to no longer report COVID-19 statistics), there were just 86 deaths reported, lowering the seven-day average in that country of more than 332 million people to 291 deaths a day.

Yes, this should also be seen as an important testimonia­l that vaccinatio­ns are very much working. Added credit should go to Saskatchew­an's Ministry of Health and to the Saskatchew­an Health Authority (SHA) for the 35,823 vaccines reported on the weekend — a record number unveiled Saturday that followed the 24,260 (two-day total) reported Friday.

The meet-the-goals push was on at a time when vaccinatio­ns in Saskatchew­an (especially, first doses) seemed to be stalling.

Moe was spot on in his messaging in a slick, prepackage­d video from Mosaic Stadium released on his weekend social media feeds that those who haven't got their first shots really need to do so because vaccines are clearly working to reduce numbers.

“COVID has not disappeare­d,” Moe said in the video that seemed designed to encourage people to keep getting vaccinated. “Let's finish the job.”

In other words, the war isn't over. So why declare a COVID-19 armistice?

As hopeful as Moe's message was — especially to those wanting to sit in the stands, frustrated by not being able to hold summer reunions or weddings or simply sick and tired of masks — it did contain disturbing­ly contradict­ory notions.

The vast majority of hospitaliz­ations and a majority of deaths are occurring in unvaccinat­ed people. Yes, the premier has said this, but isn't this what needs to be said over and over?

Moreover, those hospitaliz­ed (and, likely a considerab­le portion of the deaths, although such statistics are unavailabl­e) are largely victims of the new Gamma and Delta variants of COVID-19 that are spreading faster.

So if the unvaccinat­ed and new variant spreads are problems that will mean this war will go for a while yet, should we be laying down all our weapons? Does anyone think we can just pick them up again, if need be?

If we are now dispensing with both the stick and carrot, how exactly do we get any more of that remaining 30 per cent vaccinated? Is anyone claiming 70 per cent is good enough?

What usually happens when you lay down your best weapons before the war is really over?

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