Update briefing on northern COVID-19 situation coming Tuesday

SCREEN CAPTURE Saskatchewan’s chief medical officer Dr. Saqib Shahab speaks during a press conference last year.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority will be conducting a detailed briefing on Tuesday in regards to the COVID-19 outbreak in La Loche and the north.

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.

“Obviously whenever we have an investigation which in this case involves a person in an assisted living setting or an integrated health facility and one care provider and one resident. The other staff are put under ongoing surveillance to make sure that if anyone is symptomatic they are screened and tested whether they are positive or negative. But I will defer to tomorrow’s technical briefing as to what steps they are taking to long term care in other health facilities,” Chief Medical Health Officer Saqib Shahab said in Monday’s COVID-19 news conference.

Shahab explained that northern communities have special challenges in terms of managing cases. The SHA has worked closely with northern communities and testing numbers in the north are rising.

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.

Last Thursday 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.

-with files from Jason Kerr