Don’t want to wear a mask? Chief medical officer talked to the families of the dying

Dr. Susan Shaw, Saskatchewan Health Authority’s chief medical officer, had a few words of warning from the front lines of the medical system in the fight against COVID-19, and she wasn’t pulling many punches.

Shaw spoke to reporters by phone during the November 13 COVID-19 update briefing, when additional restrictions were brought in to limit the spread of the pandemic coronavirus in Saskatchewan. She said, “Today, I want to speak, not as the chief medical officer, but as a critical care physician. And as part of my work, I continue to take shifts in the intensive care units in Saskatoon. As part of this work, I also spend time in our emergency rooms and ORs (operating rooms). I can see what this virus is doing on our front line.

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“I think of how tired staff are with having to manage the pressures that come with this virus. But they still come to work.

“I think of the families of those that have been admitted to our intensive care unit with COVID. They sit beside their loved ones, all of them suffering, some of them dying. And they may never be truly face-to-face with each other ever again, because of the need to wear masks. They do so because it's the right thing to do. And that, to me, makes putting on a mask when you go to the grocery store seem not so hard.

“Last March, I wrote an editorial in the newspapers committing to the public that our health system would be there for you, if you can be there for us. And that is still our commitment.

“But I worry now, more than ever, about our collective commitment to keeping our health system from being overwhelmed. I worry when I hear, every week, that our contact tracers are facing verbal abuse from some of the members of the public that they deal with. That, to me, is unacceptable, especially for the people who are working so hard to help fight this virus.

“They say that people are experiencing COVID fatigue, and this is why people are becoming more relaxed about following guidelines, measures and restrictions. I'm tired, too. Physicians and staff are also tired, and yet they come to work, to make sure the system is there for you when you need it. Whether it's due to a heart attack, a stroke, a diagnosis of cancer or COVID.  And increasingly, these days, we come to work see more and more patients that are suffering with COVID. And increasingly these days, we are forced to limit family and visitors into our buildings to reduce the sickness events.

“And in the days ahead, I and my colleagues will have to tell more families that their loved one isn't going to make it. Compared to that, I believe that what we are asking at the public isn't so hard.

“When people come to the hospital, they often beg us to do everything we can. And now we are begging, in return, to do everything you can. Make your bubble the smallest possible. Wash your hands regularly. Comply with all the public health orders. And please, put on a mask whenever you're in a public indoor space. Putting on a mask is not a political statement. It's a scientific one. And it's a statement of love.

“If you're not willing to do it when it's recommended, then I invite you to trade places or join me for those conversations with family members and loved ones are so sick and are dying. I assure you, that conversation is much more difficult than wearing a mask. So please, put on a mask, follow the measures. And we need you to do your part to protect those which are most vulnerable, and ensure the system is always there for you when you need it. Thank you,” Shaw concluded.