Updated as of 6:13 p.m. on Thursday, March 19.
The provincial government has announced four new presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan, three of which are travel related.
The fourth is related to a previous case.
Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Health Officer, said they’re closely watching for any cases without a known link, but so far they haven’t found any.
He also urged residents to increase their self-monitoring, and start self-isolating if necessary.
“We want to prevent this from taking off in a big way, and the only practical way of doing this in our setting is (to) self-monitor, isolate when we’re symptomatic, (and) seek testing if required,” he told reporters during a briefing in Regina Thursday afternoon. “Otherwise, stay home.”
Shahab said results from other provinces show patients who contract COVID-19 typically recover within 10 days. Although they are required to check in with public health officials, repeat testing is rarely required, unless the patient works in a healthcare field.
Shahab said there are several Saskatchewan physicians in two different facilities are in self-isolation after presumptive COVID-19 patients showed up at medical facilities without any warning. He urged residents to use the province’s online self-assessment tool and call HealthLine 811 instead of visiting medical facilities in person.
Saskatchewan now has 20 presumptive cases of COVID-19. Eight of those 20 have been confirmed as positive. One of those individuals is in hospital for non-Coronavirus related reasons. The other 19 are recovering at home in self-isolation.
Regina has the largest number of cases with nine, followed by Saskatoon with 6. Northern Saskatchewan has two cases.
So far, 2,561 tests have been performed in Saskatchewan. When asked about setting up more testing sites, Shahab said they already have an “extensive” number around Saskatchewan. The government simply doesn’t want to reveal their locations to prevent large gatherings.
“You don’t want people crowding the assessment centres,” he said. “That’s not good for those five people standing together trying to get in.”
Patents have to be referred to a testing centre by a family physician or HealthLine 811. Referrals are given a specific time to show up at a testing facility to ensure they don’t come in contact with other patients.
Province mulls further restrictions on public gatherings
Health experts are looking at other alternatives to halt the virus’ spread. The biggest is reducing the 50-person cap on public gatherings.
Shahab said they discussed the possibility during meetings Thursday morning, but nothing has been decided.
He added that the province likely won’t enforce the 50-person cap unless someone files a complaint. Ideally, he’s hoping residents and businesses will be responsible without having to be policed.
“Public health can follow up if there’s a complaint made, but we really want this to be minimum (disruption),” he said. “I think public health is very busy trying to manage cases and contacts and we don’t want this expectation that it has to be something that’s policed, but obviously if there’s a complaint, then public health can (follow up).”
Daycare closure not necessary: Shahab
While classes at Saskatchewan’s elementary and high schools are suspended, most private daycares are still in operation.
Shahab said that’s likely to continue, although he urged larger daycares to take precautions such as splitting children into groups of five or 10, and keeping the groups separate from each other.
“The infection rate seems to be lower in young children under 20, so the question is then why close schools?” Shahab said. “It’s complicated. I think it is clear that unlike coughs and colds or Norovirus or influenza, this (COVID-19) is not primarily transmitted through children. It is transmitted mostly in older adults through close contact.
“Having said that, there seems to be some sense that by closing down schools and universities and gyms, that it’s a way to slow things down and daycares could be closed, they would put pressure on people who are providing essential work. Will this slow down the force of infection? That’s not really very clear because daycare’s not (an) incubator of COVID-19.”