SHA urges northern residents to stop travelling to Alberta during COVID-19 outbreak

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) and Northern Inter-Tribal Alliance urged residents in Northern Saskatchewan to stop travelling to Alberta after an outbreak of new COVID-19 cases were linked to travel between the two provinces.

The SHA is still conducting its contract tracing investigation, but says there is regular interprovincial travel from residents in northern communities to the Fort McMurray area in Alberta. A number of COVID-19 cases have been linked to an oil sands facility north of Fort McMurray, according to a media update released on Saturday, and there is “a potential for community transmission with continued non-essential travel between communities across the border.”

Regional medical health officers have advised against all non-essential travel between Northwest Saskatchewan and Northern Alberta, effective immediately.

The SHA also recommended that all Northern Saskatchewan residents self-isolate for 14 days and self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms after returning home from Northern Alberta.

Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, chills, diminished sense of smell, body aches, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

On Thursday, Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab reported that a staff member at a long-term care facility in La Loche had tested positive for COVID-19. There other cases have also been reported in the area, including one care home resident.

FSIN chief Bobby Cameron has been critical of the provincial government’s response to COVID-19 cases in the north. On April 13, he argued the government wasn’t doing enough to make sure northern healthcare workers followed proper procedure. The Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority echoed those concerns, saying that 40 per cent of healthcare sites did not have proper equipment to respond to a pandemic.

In response, the Saskatchewan Health Authority instituted a number of new measures, including mandatory temperature checks for all healthcare workers before and after shifts, and minimized staff movement between facilities.

The provincial government announced three new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Saturday, along with three new presumptive cases, bringing the total number of cases to 313.

Another six patients have recovered from the virus, meaning only 75 of those 313 cases are still active. There are still five patients in hospital, one of which is in intensive care.

There are seven active COVID-19 cases in the north, an area which includes Prince Albert, Melfort, North Battleford and Meadow Lake. There are eight active cases in the far north.

The Saskatoon area, which includes Humboldt, continues to have the highest number of active cases in Saskatchewan with 38. The south area, which includes Weyburn, Moose Jaw and Swift Current, has only two active cases, the lowest number in the province.

The government reports 35 total cases involve healthcare workers, but says the source of the infections may not be healthcare related in all instances.

There are 29 Saskatchewan cases that have no known exposure, and 18 more are still under investigation.