Chief medical health officer reminds Sask. residents to stay vigilant

Province not yet in second wave, but future situation dependent on actions today

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

New COVID-19 cases are slowly trending upwards but the province isn’t in a second wave, Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said that it’s up to Saskatchewan citizens to keep it that way.

“Our cases are trending up. We were expecting to see this as schools open, as our economy reopens,” he said Thursday.

“We have to make sure we’re doing everything possible to keep this curve as flat as possible. It may not be as flat as it was at the end of the summer, but even now, we have to keep it at this level as much as possible.”

He said residents know how to do that, by keeping to their virtual household bubble, taking extra care around those at higher risk or those working with vulnerable people, socially distancing and washing hands frequently when out in public or outside of our bubbles and wearing a mask if social distancing isn’t possible.

Cases, for the most part, over the past week or so have been concentrated in the Saskatoon, Regina and Yorkton areas. Some of those regions saw identified chains of transmission. In Yorkton, they were tied to a local business.

Wednesday saw the province report 14 new cases. Of those, one was in the North Central Region, specifically in North Central 3, north of Prince Albert. There are now six in the North Central Zone. Four are in the North Central 2 sub-zone, which includes Prince Albert, while the remaining two are in North Central 3.

There are seven people in the hospital.

The province confirmed that one staff member of Saskatchewan Penitentiary has tested positive and that the province is working closely with Correctional Services Canada to assess who else might be a close contact. Close contacts will be put under self-isolation until they have test results come back.

Shahab indicated the individual was at work before they became symptomatic.

Testing rates continue to rise in the province, mostly due to the popularity of drive-thru testing in Regina and Saskatoon.

“Our testing numbers are very good,” Shahab said.

“Everything we’re looking at shows us there’s sufficient testing around the province and the test positively rate remains low, which is good.”

Shahab said people with symptoms should promptly get a COVID-19 test so they can be informed of their situation and their close contacts can be isolated.

“That is the most effective strategy, in addition to all of the things we are individual, to break the chains of transmission.”

Shahab also encouraged residents to download the Federal government’s COVID-19 alert app. The app does not track any personal information. Rather, it used Bluetooth to send out codes to nearby phones. The codes don’t include personal information aside from where and when they were registered. The app holds on to those anonymous codes for 15 days. If someone using the app tests positive, they receive a code from the provincial government to insert into the app. The app alerts the system and anyone who came within 2 metres of the positive test for at least 15 minutes over the past two weeks is then alerted that they came into contact with a positive case, using the codes stored in the phone. There is no way to track who that case was or any other personal health information, only that you were in contact with a positive case.

 “If you would become a case, everyone in the last 15 days who had been within two metres of you for 15 minutes would get an alert notification,” Shahab said.

“It’s only useful if more people have it downloaded and active.”

Thirty-four active COVID cases in school-aged children

Thursday was also the day for the update on the number of school-aged children in the province who have active cases of COVID-19.

That report is released every Thursday and details the active cases per zone of children and youth aged 0-19 who have tested positive for COVID19.

A total of 4,081 tests were conducted from Sept. 21 to 27 in school-aged residents, and just 0.5 per cent were positive.

The North Zone, which includes Prince Albert, has no active cases in school-aged children.

Active cases ins school-aged children doesn’t mean the case was active in a school.

Shahab said Thursday that there have been about 14 cases in schools. While Yorkton had four, there was no evidence in any of the cases of the virus being spread in the school setting. Rather, it was spread in the community and brought into the school.

Shahab thanked parents, teachers and students for all of their work keeping the virus at bay.

“We are not seeing outbreaks in schools,” Shahab said

“It’s really important to keep doing what we are doing, because if there is a case in school of someone who went before they were symptomatic, we are able to prevent large clusters or outbreaks in the school setting.”

Shahab said that the occasional case or two in a school is expected, but as long as community transmission numbers remain low and the province can react promptly, there is no reason to change course.

He acknowledged that there may be situations this year, especially as more activities move inside, where there is a cluster of cases in a school setting and a group of students has to self-isolate and learn remotely. He said there may be cases where an entire class or even an entire school has to do that for a span of two weeks.

“We will continue to monitor and update guidance as required,” Shahab said.

Keeping case numbers down, Shahab said, and keeping Saskatchewan away from a second wave and a tightening of restrictions depends on what people do themselves

“It’s up to us to a large extent,” Shahab said.

“The risks of transmission will increase in the fall. It’s up to us to practice what we’ve been doing so well. The outcomes depend on all of us.  That means all of us, not just a few of us.”