Coronavirus Canada Updates: Saskatchewan doctors explain mixed messaging, role of chief medical health officer

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As Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 cases continue to reach new highs, some doctors are noticing a change in the chief medical health officer’s (CMHO) messaging, which doesn’t always align with what we hear from government officials.

“He is sending more urgent messages to stay home, if possible, unless you have to go for essential services,” said health policy consultant Dr. Dennis Kendel.

“It’s interesting, the premier or minister, whoever is beside him at the press conferences, really don’t echo that message.”

Last week, Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s CMHO, recommended people limit their time in stores and restaurants.

However, in that same press conference, Premier Scott Moe told the public to go to restaurants, if they want to gather with more than five people.

Mixed messaging confuses the public, Kendel said, adding it undermines cohesive action on the part of the public.

“The public just doesn’t know what really would be the preference of the CMHO,” Kendel said.

“It would be like going to see your doctor in a clinical setting and wondering is your doctor recommending the very best thing for you or is his or her judgement being influenced by some external factor that you’re unaware of.”

While under legislation the health minister can grant authorization for the CMHO to make orders, it doesn’t mean the CMHO has “unfettered professional autonomy,” according to Kendel.

“My perception is there is probably both explicit and implicit controls on what he is permitted to put into orders,” he said.

Kendel suggests Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 response is driven by politics, not public health.

He believes the premier is sticking to his campaign promise to not enter a second lockdown, not matter the recommendations made by the CMHO.

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