No Coronavirus cases in Saskatchewan, but Chief Medical Health Officer still urges caution

There are no confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Saskatchewan, but the province’s Chief Medical Health Officer says residents still need to take precautions, especially if they plan on travelling.

Saskatchewan CMHO Dr. Saqib Shahab spoke to reporters about the virus, which health experts refer to as COVID-19, during a press conference in Regina on Thursday. He said the risk of contracting Coronavirus remains low in Saskatchewan, but with seven confirmed cases in British Columbia and six more in Ontario, he’s urging residents to do their research before travelling.

“Things are changing very rapidly,” Shahab said. “Right now it’s picking up in Northern Italy, some cases in other parts of Italy. Two months from now it may be different. It may have just gone away. It’s important to (check) the Health Canada travel advisory website.”

More than 40 countries have reported at least one case of Coronavirus within their borders, although Shahab said most cases are not life-threatening. The mortality rate in the hardest hit parts of China sits at about three per cent, but outside of those areas more than 99 per cent of people who contract the virus survive.

The provincial government has investigated 27 potential instances of Coronavirus in Saskatchewan as of Feb. 24, with no confirmed cases. By comparison, 25 people have been hospitalized and 11 people have died in Saskatchewan due to the flu this winter.

“It is a very unusual issue,” Shahab told reporters. “There is a lot of concern a month ago. There was some reassurance, about two weeks ago, that China’s managing to contain it, so maybe we’re out of the woods, but then last week changed everything and we had sustained transmission in at least South Korea and Iran and obviously importation in Canada.”

Shahab said a coronavirus outbreak in Saskatchewan would be difficult to manage, and he stressed that the province’s medical community was not underestimating the situation. However, he also emphasized that most residents could protect themselves through proper hygiene.

All the common prevention techniques used to combat the flu could be used to stop the spread of coronavirus, he explained. That includes things like washing your hands, coughing into your sleeve, and staying home from work or school if sick.

He added that as flu season draws to a close, it will actually make it easier for medical professionals to identify possible cases.

“We all have this fear factor of COVID-19 as a new virus, but if it was to come here, for most of us it would just be a respiratory virus that makes us sick for a few days and then we’ll be better,” he said.

The Ministry of Health already has plans to deal with a Coronavirus outbreak, should it hit Saskatchewan. The province last updated its pandemic planning in 2009-10 during the H1N1 outbreak, and was in the process of updating their planning again when Coronavirus hit.

“They say if you haven’t had a pandemic in 10 years, you should plan for one, so we were already updating the plan when we had the COVID-19 issue come up,” Shahab explained.

The provincial government is working to make more intensive care unit beds available should they see a surge of cases, while also urging residents to call ahead if they’re heading to a hospital to be tested. The goal is to keep potential patients from mingling in a hospital waiting room and potentially spreading the virus.

Shahab said they typically see a surge in flu cases during the winter, so a lot of their planning will be built off of those experiences. They also have plans to isolate patients with the virus while still providing them with the necessary care. That could mean creating entire hospital floors dedicated to treating Coronavirus patients, with staff members who only work on that floor at that facility during the outbreak.

Regardless, Shahab emphasized that not everyone will need to be hospitalized.

“It’s just like influenza. If you get the flu, stay at home from school or work (and) you’ll be fine,” he said. “For the vast majority, it will be staying home until you’re better, so I think we need to recognize that. It doesn’t mean everyone needs to be hospitalized.”

The first cases of Coronavirus occurred in Wuhan, China on Dec. 31, 2019. Common signs of the illness include fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. More severe cases can cause pneumonia, kidney failure, severe acute respiratory syndrome and even death. Seniors and residents with chronic illnesses may be at a higher risk of contracting a more severe form of the disease.

Coronavirus symptoms will typically start to appear 14 days after exposure. To prevent spreading the disease, the Ministry of Health recommends self-monitoring and self-isolation during that timeframe.

There is no evidence that surgical masks protect people who are not sick. The World Health Organization does not recommend residents use masks unless they have a relevant travel history and respiratory symptoms such as coughing or difficulty breathing.

Anyone concerned they may have developed symptoms of Coronavirus should call HealthLine 811.