Shahab ‘quite positive’ about COVID-19 recovery, but urges residents to remain cautious

Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Health Officer says things are looking “quite positive” for the province after only four new cases were reported on Monday.

However, he still urged residents to be cautious for the next few months. Monday’s new case total was the lowest since April 14, when health authorities reported just one new case. All new cases were in the La Loche area.

“This is a marathon,” Dr. Saqib Shahab told reporters on Monday. “We have learned a lot, over the spring and summer, about how to manage (COVID-19) and we really hope that as we re-open we can maintain that discipline of physical distancing to keep our infection rate as low as possible. We need to be able to sustain that over the summer and over the fall.”

Shahab said the virus’ effective reproductive number (RT) is at around two in La Loche, but in the rest of the province it’s fallen to around .74. An RT of greater than one is considered a tipping point for public health measures.

“We are obviously watching both the case numbers and the RT very closely provincially and also in certain parts of the province with an outbreak,” he said. “As long as outbreaks remain confined to a specific geographical area, and are managed (with) extensive public health interventions, including testing (and) active case finding, the hope is that it will pull the effective reproduction number down.”

There are now 199 active COVID-19 cases in the province, 151 of which are in the far north.

The north area, which includes Prince Albert, Melfort, Meadow Lake and North Battleford, has 33 active cases, while the Saskatoon area, which includes Humboldt, has 13 cases. The rest of the province has only two active cases combined.

Another 14 COVID-19 patients have recovered from the virus, bringing the total number of recoveries to 363.

Shahab said it would be very concerning to see cases popping up without a link to a known COVID-19 patient. As long as that doesn’t happen, he’s confident they can manage any localized outbreak.

With case numbers continuing to fall, Premier Scott Moe said they’re considering inviting MLAs back to Regina and re-opening the Legislative Assembly. Government leaders met with the NDP last week to discuss the issue, and plan to do so again this week.

He also responded to comments from opposition NDP leader Ryan Meili, who criticized the government authorizing billions in new spending with no legislative oversight in an open letter released Monday morning.

“This is work that has already been occurring at the level that is has historically occurred at—the meeting of the house leaders, starting last week officially,” Moe said. “My understanding is they also have a meeting scheduled for this week, and I’m sure that the leader of the opposition is aware that work is going on. I would be surprised if he wasn’t aware.

“I was quite surprised to see the leader of the opposition write a very public letter asking for the resumption of full legislative services when this is work that is already being done.”

Moe promised an additional public response to the NDP leader’s letter at a later date.

Meili argued MLAs needed to pass changes to The Election Act so voters can cast their ballots as safely as possible during the next provincial election. He also said residents have questions about healthcare readiness, support for families and businesses, access to childcare and employment.

“The people of Saskatchewan deserve oversight and accountability when it comes to your government’s choices,” Meili wrote.

Saskatchewan would not be the first province to re-open its legislature. Albertan MLAs returned on May 6 to debate measures related to the COVID-19 outbreak. Manitoba’s legislature also resumed sitting on May 6, although not all MLAs were allowed in the chamber at same time. They plan to keep meeting every Wednesday in May.