Saskatchewan set a new record for single-day positive COVID-19 tests Thursday as 42 new cases were reported.
That beats the previous record of 34 set on May 4.
There are a growing number of COVID-19 positive cases and rising level of transmission within communities and communal living venues in southwest and west-central Saskatchewan.
“The vast majority of the cases are related to a growing outbreak in a number of Hutterite communities and neighbouring communities in southwest and west-central Saskatchewan,” Rural and Remote Health Minister Warren Kaeding said during a press conference on Thursday.
The SHA is working with local Hutterite leadership, the Hutterian Safety Council and the business community in the area to control the spread.
“This includes aggressive testing and contract testing which has detected these positive cases and will likely find more in the days ahead,” Kaeding said.
They also reminded everyone to continue to take necessary precautions in the area.
“We are asking everyone in the affected area to take the following steps to protect yourself and others from the spread of COVID-19. Stay in your home community as much as possible, self-isolate and get tested if you are feeling unwell at all. Self-isolate and get tested if you have come in contact with anyone who you know has tested positive. Limit your interpersonal contacts and group gatherings as much as possible,” Kaeding said.
Kaeding explained that they are not releasing any new public health orders at this time or closing off this region like they did during the outbreak in the northwest in May.
“We believe that by following these recommendations local residents can help get this outbreak under control. I know this is asking a lot. We had all hoped that we were through the most difficult phase of COVID-19 and with everything reopening nobody wants to be taking a step backwards but there is now an increased risk in southwest and west central Saskatchewan,” Kaeding said.
They are asking people in these areas to take these steps for the next couple of weeks to get it back under control.
“Thank you to everyone in that part of the province for your cooperation. The SHA will continue to do its part through aggressive testing and contact tracing to identify positive cases and their close contacts need to self-isolate. This outbreak is a reminder that the virus has not gone away and once it starts to spread it can spread quickly. While our overall case numbers are low in Saskatchewan that means that most of us remain vulnerable to exposure to COVID-19 so we all have to keep being careful,” Kaeding said.
While some cases have links to communal settings and Hutterite colonies, officials stressed the note that there are also several other, unrelated increases in cases in this geographical area. According to SHA CEO Scott Livingstone, who also took part in the press conference, the work with the local Hutterite leadership and Hutterian Safety Council is ongoing.
Livingstone said there were at least ten unrelated cases in the regions identified by the province.
”We had a meeting this morning with a number of leaders from across the province to discuss next steps and how we continue to collaborate with our case finding and aggressive tracing. Well the surge of cases is concerning, we should recognize that we are seeing a surge because we are seeing active case finding and aggressive testing in the areas. You cannot contain what you cannot see,” Livingstone said.
He explained that efforts in the region have increased with testing sites working longer hours and through deploying testing to affected areas at the invitation of Hutterian leadership.
“All of these plans are in place to enhance testing with additional resources from the community as well as deploying staff from other areas of the province. We have also opened up testing to anyone who would like to be tested and we are starting to show an increase of the numbers of referrals throughout the province,” Livingstone said.
Throughout the press conference, both Kaeding and Livingstone used the example of the outbreak in the northwest and how it is now under control.
“Anecdotally, we should be encouraged by when we face this situation in southwest and west central Saskatchewan, as of yesterday our medical health officer in northern Saskatchewan shared that we no longer have active cases associated with that significant situation in the northwest of the province,” Livingstone said.
Staff have been brought on colony when invited and haven’t shown up unannounced, according to Livingstone. They have typically been going door to door and doing reminders of public health orders.
After being questioned as to if a lockdown of the region was necessary it was explained that it was because of a request by the area’s leadership.
“We look at the northwest and the northwest has asked for this to occur in their area and we were able to respond,” Kaeding said.
When it comes to checkpoints they are also part of ongoing discussions.
“Right now they haven’t deemed that to be necessary. That is not to say that it couldn’t be,” Kaeding said.
Being invited into the communities helps with aggressive contract tracing that is similar to what happened in the northwest,
“When we are invited into the communities and we can actually go door to door and do assessments … (we are) and testing way more people than if we were simply relying on walk up testing,” Livingstone said.
Livingstone gave credit to leadership in both the northwest and the Hutterian communities for making it easier to get the work of contract tracing and door to door monitoring done.
In their release the province said that increased levels of COVID-19 activity means there is an increased risk of transmission to the public. The following rural municipalities and areas have been identified of having a greater risk of transmission of COVID-19: the Rural Municipalities of Maple Creek, Auvergne, Biggar, Eagle Creek, Grandview, Harris, Kellross, Lac Pelletier, Newcombe, Perdue, Pleasant Valley Prairiedale, Tramping Lake and the City of Swift Current.
On Thursday, there were 31 cases reported in the south, six in the central region, four in the Saskatoon region and one in the north. The new total number of cases is 923 for the province.
Of the 923 reported cases, 114 are considered active a jump of 39 from Wednesday.
The recovered number has gone up an additional three and is now 794.
There are 11 people in hospital with illnesses related to COVID-19.
Nine individuals are receiving inpatient care in the hospital; seven in Saskatoon, one in the south and one in the north.
Two people remain listed in intensive care; one in Saskatoon and one in the south.
Of the 881 cases in the province: 180 cases are related to travel, 504 are community contacts, which includes mass gatherings, 134 have no known exposures and 105 are under investigation by local public health.
As of July 16, 78,851 COVID-19 tests have been performed in the province an increase of 843 from Wednesday.
Health authorities are relying on people to do the right thing and exercise proper judgement.
“I think we should be proud of our record in Saskatchewan with what has been happening,” Kaeding said.
Visitor restrictions at Cypress Regional Hospital and at Long-Term Care Homes in southwest and west central Saskatchewan
The Saskatchewan Health Authority also put out a release Thursday asking the public for their support and cooperation in order to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Visitors at Cypress Regional Hospital, as well as long-term care homes and personal care homes within close proximity to areas with an increased transmission of COVID-19 will be temporarily restricted.
“It is crucial that we continue to keep the spread of COVID out of our seniors homes and we protect our loved ones who live in those facilities,’ Kaeding said.
At Cypress Regional Hospital, family members or support people will only be permitted for compassionate reasons. No other visitors are allowed into the facilities at this time and these enhanced restrictions will remain in place at Cypress Regional Hospital until further notice.
Compassionate care reasons may include, but are not limited to, family or support persons during end-of-life care, major surgery, intensive care/critical care or a care partner aiding in clinical care (at the discretion of the patient’s care provider). Detailed information about compassionate care can be found at saskatchewan.ca/covid19.
In the following long-term care homes, visitation will be restricted to outdoor visits and end of life care: Biggar, Cabri, Eastend, Elrose, Eston, Foam Lake, Gravelbourg, Gull Lake, Kerrobert, Kindersley, Lafleche, Lestock, Mankota, Maple Creek, Meadows in Swift Current, Ponteix, Raymore, Rosetown, Shaunavon, Theodore and Wynyard.
Outdoor visitation will remain in place until further notice. End of life care includes palliative care, hospice care or those who are at high risk for loss of life as determined with the patient, family and care team. Detailed information about visitation can be found at the SHA website.
Family members and support people who are permitted must be verified and undergo a health screening prior to entering the facility or home. This includes a temperature check and questionnaire. The visitor will be required to perform hand hygiene (hand washing and/or use of hand sanitizer) when entering and leaving the facility or home and when entering and leaving the patient’s or resident’s room.
Visitors will be required to wear a medical grade mask while inside the facility or home and potentially additional personal protective equipment if required. Visitors are not permitted to wait in waiting rooms or other common areas.
Under no circumstances should you visit if you have respiratory, gastric or flu-like symptoms or if you have travelled outside of Canada in the past 14 days.