13 new COVID-19 cases announced Friday

Herald file photo

The province announced 13 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, with all but one coming from the ongoing outbreak in the La Loche area.

The remaining case is in the north region. While that region includes Prince Albert, the single case was said to have come from the Lloydminster area.

Of the 544 total reported cases, 203 are considered active. Six more people have recovered, bringing the provincial total to 335.

Of active cases, 148 are from the far north, 38 the north region, 15 Saskatoon and two in Regina. There are no active cases in the central or south regions of the province.

There are currently 19 people with COVID-19 in the hospital. Fifteen are receiving inpatient care (six in the north and nine in Saskatoon) and four are in intensive care (three in Saskatoon and one in the north).

The lack of new cases from the rest of the province was celebrated by Premier Scott Moe.

“We’ve proved … that we can flatten the curve when we take our physical distancing very seriously,” he said.

“When we limit our movement between communities and within the community, we can control the spread of the virus.”

Shahab had similar comments.

“The rest of the province is quiet and that’s good,” he said.

He anticipates more reported recoveries next week once the first of the cases diagnosed in La Loche begin to recover. While hospitalizations remain high, Shahab said those numbers tend to lag behind overall case counts and don’t serve as a good metric for tracking an outbreak.

Of the 544 cases in the province, 138 are travellers, 260 are community contacts, 56 have no known exposures and 90 are under investigation by public health.

The province said Friday that outbreaks will be publicly posted within health facilities, personal care homes and homeless shelters and correctional facilities. Public advisories will always be issued if there is a risk to the public.

Public posting of outbreaks within workplaces, industrial or commercial space will be done on a case-by-case basis when appropriate, the province said.

“This approach balances protecting the public and ensuring the privacy of individuals and businesses,” the province wrote.

Also on Friday, the local medical health officer declared the COVID-19 outbreak in Prince Albert’s Victoria Hospital had come to an end. The one confirmed case came into contact with several other staff members, but no one else had contracted the illness. The proper use of PPE was attributed to stopping the spread.

Overall, across the province, 44 cases of COVID-19 have been attributed to health care workers, however, the source of the infections may not be related to health care in all instances. The majority of the cases — 179 — are from the far north, 163 from the Saskatoon area, 100 from the north, 76 from the Regina area, 15 from the south and 11 from the central region.

The gender of infected patients is an equal 50/50 split between men and women. The number of deaths holds steady at six.

Saskatchewan’s per capita rate of 27,184 people tested per million population exceeds the national rate of 26,665 per million.

The largest group of infections is in people aged 20-39. In the past, that was attributed to health care and other frontline workers. Now, though, officials say it’s because residents in that age group are coming back positive more often in the La Loche area outbreak.

“That’s why we’re stressing it’s important for all of us to maintain physical distancing,” Shahab said.

Strict travel restrictions remain in place in the northern part of the province.

On Friday, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms issued a warning to the province’s chief medical health officer over those restrictions.

The travel restrictions also prevent residents from travelling outside of the community in which their primary residence is located, with a few exceptions.

“The Order prevents northern residents from utilizing local forests, lakes and waterways to meet their needs for recreation, relaxation or solitude and benefit their mental and physical health,” the centre wrote.

“Under the Order, only individuals able to claim an Aboriginal right for doing so are permitted to venture out of their community to enjoy nature.”

Staff lawyer Marty Moore wrote that northern Saskatchewan is blessed with vast forests, lakes and waterways.

“These areas can easily be enjoyed by local residents while complying with social distancing protocols and avoiding encounters with others, negating any risk of transmission of COVID-19… It is unconstitutional for the government to arbitrarily restrict citizens’ liberty of movement,” he wrote.

“This is especially so where when restricting liberty may cause unnecessary negative effects on citizens’ mental and physical health, without in fact reducing the risk of transmission of COVID-19.”

Moore demanded that the order be amended so that northern residents can enjoy local forests, lakes and waterways.

While he wasn’t asked about and didn’t respond directly to the threat, Moe spoke about the travel restrictions Friday.

“We did work closely with community leaders individually and as groups on how to restrict travel in and out of the north,” he said.

“It’s our understanding that the checkpoints are up and operating 24/7. We are confident that our checkpoints are quite effective in limiting the movement in and out of the north and between communities. We’d ask people to comply not only with the checkpoints but with the spirit of the public health order and the legality of the public health order as it is what allows us to flatten the curve in all communities.”

Saskatchewan Health Authority executive director Scott Livingstone said measures have been effective as the spread is mostly within the community now, and not coming from outside of La Loche.

“We are very happy with our results today with respect to contact tracing and believe that we are doing a very good job of it, including in the north,” he said.

“We’re seeing most of the cases now are being transmitted from cOVID-positive patients inside the community. They’re not coming from outside of the community.”

He also spoke of the success of contact tracing overall.

“If contact tracing wasn’t working, we wouldn’t be seeing the result in the south that we are.”

Moe said work is ongoing to inform and enforce public health orders. He said information is being broadcast in four languages and the RCMP is doing its part to inform, and if necessary, enforce, public health orders to avoid gatherings of more than ten people and to self-isolate if you have contracted the virus.

“There are opportunities for us to continue to communicate with those who may not be physical distancing in some communities and this is a reminder that if we let our guard down for just a moment how quickly this virus will spread from person to person no matter if you’re in La Loche or Estevan or Esterhazy,” Moe said.

He also urged younger residents who may not be following the advice of officials to practice physical distancing to protect the community’s elders.

“The numbers we have say that young adults are predominantly the ones contracting COVID-19. I won’t speak to why that is. But if the lack of physical distancing and not being entirely careful with the sharing of different items and the ultimate spread of this virus is a challenge. I would ask them to stop,” he said.

“I would ask the youth in La Loche to take their personal responsibility very seriously and pay attention to how to properly physical distance, how to not only protect themselves but the elders in their family, the elders in their community that they love and cherish very much.”

If people still aren’t listening, he said, there is the option of enforcement.

“It would be our expectation that the RCMP are looking through a phased approach with education for individuals who are not following the public health orders and leading up to enforcement.”

From May 1 to 7, there were 104 calls for service province-wide related to COVID-19, the RCMP said. Thirteen were for complaints of people failing to self-isolate when allegedly required to do so, 33 were for complaints of gatherings of more than 10 people and the remaining 58 were other complaints. One charge was laid in the northern district of the province. It’s only the fourth charge laid so far.

Moe wrapped up Friday’s update — which lasted over an hour — with a message for the whole province.

“What do I think about each and every morning? I wait for those numbers to come in and I cross my fingers and pray that there is not an additional fatality,” he said.

“Proper physical distancing prevents that. It has kept our fatalities to an absolute minimum and it has kept our infection rate to a minimum. I cannot understate the personal responsibility each and every one of us has in making sure we are practicing physical distancing. This has proven successful not only in protecting ourselves but protecting those that are elderly and those we love in our community.”