Province to lift remaining COVID-19 travel restrictions Monday

Dr. Saqib Shahab speaks to media during a COVID-19 update in Regina on Sunday, March 15. -- Screen capture.

The province announced that travel restrictions in northwest Saskatchewan will be lifted on June 8 as the active number of COVID-19 cases reached the lowest level since March 21.

There were no new COVID-19 cases Tuesday. Fourteen more people recovered, bringing the number of active cases to 33.

Two people remain in the hospital. Both are receiving intensive care in Saskatoon.

In addition to lifting the travel restrictions, which were put in place in response to a COVID-19 outbreak in the La Loche area, Saskatchewan announced Tuesday that the first two phases of its reopening plan will come into effect in La Loche on June 8, the same day phase three is introduced in most of the province.

Phase three will be delayed indefinitely for the northwest portion of Saskatchewan.

In addition, Premier Scott Moe indicated that new guidelines for visitors to long-term care in Saskatchewan are expected to be released tomorrow.

Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab reiterated the importance of physical distancing and other measures as the reopening plan continues.

“As we open and engage in … gatherings, we have to be mindful because that’s where transmission happens,” he said.

“If you have lots of different gatherings all the time, that’s where transmission happens and in days to weeks you can go from no cases to dozens to hundreds.”

As long as precautions are followed, he said residents can start increasing their virtual households from two to three households to three to four.

He also advised all residents to make themselves familiar with the phase three guidelines, available online at saskatchewan.ca/COVID19.

“Even if you’re not a business owner, it’s important to become familiar with the protocols because … it makes it easier for business owners to comply and makes the experience safe and pleasant for everyone,” Shahab said.

Saskatchewan, which was once one of the top provinces for COVID-19 testing per capita, has seen its testing numbers fall over the past few weeks.

Shahab said maintaining testing is important because it helps the province understand if it is truly seeing a decline in transmission or if cases are going undetected.

“We are looking at testing overall, and if it is lagging, we have to communicate that it is available where testing rates are falling,” he said.

“That’s something we have to keep an eye on … to keep us assured that our test numbers are what they are, which is really low.”

Shahab said the province is also looking at the percentage of tests that are positive, which also remains low.

Currently, testing is open to anyone with symptoms, anyone working outside of their home, or anyone returning to work as part of the Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan.

Testing is going to be expanded to those being admitted to acute care for more than 24 hours, including expectant mothers, and immunocompromised individuals and their health care providers.

Shahab said that while case numbers remain low, there are still low levels of COVID-19 transmission going on throughout the province.

“We know that 30 to 40 per cent of COVID-19 can be asymptomatic or symptoms that are so mild one wouldn’t even think twice about them,” Shahab said.

“That’s why we want to encourage testing. That’s why as we reopen … we need to continue those simple but very effective measures of physical distancing and hand hygiene.

“If we’re not careful … we can quickly go into dozens or hundreds of cases very quickly those are key things we have to keep in mind as we move forward.”

As for moving forward, so long as Saskatchewan continues to keep case counts low, phase four will be announced within the next week. Shahab said he would like to see two to three weeks between re-opening phases, so the target date will be likely late June or early July.

The phase might be rolled out in two steps as some activities — such as outdoor recreation — are easier to open up and ensure physical distance than others.

“Outdoor recreational activities we’ll be announcing earlier as phase 4.1,” Shahab said.

“Some additional areas may be later, which need more thought in terms of how the processes will work. We’re trying to align with other provinces and learn from their experiences as well. We’re doing extremely well in Saskatchewan.  We have to stay the course. Simple steps can prevent multiple chains of transmission that will allow us to move forward with phase 4.1 and 4.2 in a more streamlined way. We all have to do our part to allow us to move forward.”

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