SHA declares COVID outbreak in two Maple Creek area Hutterite communities

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) has declared an outbreak in two Hutterite communities in the Rural Municipality of Maple Creek, located in the southwest corner of the province. An undisclosed number of additional cases are still under investigation for their links to local or interprovincial travel.

On Monday, the SHA released a joint statement with the Hutterian Safety Council (HSC) saying that while the vast majority of Hutterite communities embraced COVID-19 testing and safety protocols, there has been some resistance to the measures.

“In the spirit of openness, the HSC wishes to acknowledge that there have been challenges getting some Hutterite communities to implement adequate COVID-19 protocols and to abide by the public health orders, although most adapted with care and managed the transition somewhat easier than others,” reads a section of the statement. “Many Hutterites feel that their communities are isolated and thus are insulated communities. This creates a false sense of security in the face of COVID-19, and HSC continues to work at dispelling this notion.”

The HSC created a COVID-19 safety taskforce in March to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 through region specific bulletins. The bulletins included instructions on physical distancing and reducing community gathering sizes, and advised communities to comply with provincial health orders.

While most communities have worked together with the SHA, some worried about getting tested due to stigmatization and economic shutdowns.

“The Saskatchewan Health Authority experienced some resistance to COVID-19 testing at some Hutterite communities,” the statement reads. “While the vast majority embraced the leadership of the SHA and HSC, a small group has resisted intervention. This is regrettable, but also not wholly unexpected for a group of diverse people spread over a vast political and geographical area.”

The SHA said progress has been made and communities that were lax in training, education and testing were now implementing proper protocols.

“The Saskatchewan Health Authority would like to thank the leadership of communities in the Maple Creek area for their support when working with (the) SHA to contain the virus,” the statement reads. “The decision to do so is the only way to retain consumer confidence and expedite the reopening and recovery of the SK economy.”

The SHA also emphasized that it was not helpful to stigmatize residents who test positive for COVID, or communities with large numbers of COVID-19 patients. Doing so would cause division and conflict, the statement reads, at a time when Saskatchewan communities needed to pull together.

Saskatchewan health officials reported 36 new COVID-19 cases over the last three days, 20 of which were in the southern part of the province. Another 13 cases were in the far north, while two were in the Saskatoon region, and one was in the north.

There are now 95 active COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan, 48 of which are in the far north and 34 of which are in the south. There are nine cases in the Saskatoon region, and 2 in the north. The west central, east central and Regina regions have no cases. There are three COVID-19 patients in hospital, and no patients in the ICU.

The SHA ended its community outbreak declaration for Saskatoon on Sunday. They declared the outbreak on May 27 after COVID cases involving multiple different households were linked to a large gathering.

“With the understanding and cooperation of those involved, the SHA and affected members of the public have worked well and been able to control the train of transmission and stop any further transmission associated with this outbreak,” reads an SHA media release sent out on Monday.

“While the province continues to cautiously reopen, the public is reminded that during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to continue to take precautions to protect yourself, your families and everyone who lives in the community. COVID-19 is present in Saskatchewan and we all have a responsibility to minimize the spread of the disease.”

The SHA also released a joint statement with the Hutterian Safety Council (HSC) on guiding Hutterite communities through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recreation areas around the province like outdoor swimming pools, spray parks and day camps were allowed to open across the province on Monday. That marks part one of the Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan’s fourth phase. Premier Scott Moe promised to announce the part two reopen date sometime next week.

“We’re working hard to reopen (Saskatchewan) as quickly as possible,” he wrote in a Tweet.

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