Difference between urban and rural COVID-19 transmission events explained by Shahab

The Saskatchewan Legislature. -- Herald File Photo

After a week where the province saw 260 new cases of COVID-19  Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab broke down how there is a difference between urban and rural transmission events.

“In urban areas of course we have seen large transmission events linked to a nightclub and fitness facilities. In rural settings the clusters tend to be due to private social gatherings, weddings, gatherings in the home, house parties. In some cases, as we have seen from the P.A. exposure and from the Saskatoon exposures at bars and nightclubs, they also can be people visiting urban areas obviously at different venues and then taking COVID back to many rural communities as well,” Shahab said.

In all cases, increases of local transmission are spilling into workplaces. All of these are reminders to continue with best practices.

There are currently 511 active cases and there were 92 recoveries this week. The provincial total over the entire pandemic to this point is 2,591 cases.

 “Our hospitalizations also are slowly trending upwards with 20 cases now in hospital including four in ICU. And if we look at our average case rate over a week period we have gone up from 2.8 new cases a day on average per 100,000 to 4.2 new cases a day per 100,000 this week,” he said.

This week there was an average of 46 cases per day.

“I like to look at the average over the past week because that really evens out the daily fluctuations,” Shahab said.

 “As we look at the last nine months, while our case numbers have gone up and down this is not going to go away and we need to live with preventing COVID cases surging,” he said.

Best practices, as Shahab has repeatedly stated, include staying home when you don’t feel well, hand washing, maintaining physical distance and wearing a mask when required. Shahab said when cases are surging in local areas, such as North Central 2 which is Prince Albert, we should be extra cautious.

“But because we have transmission now throughout the province the principals remain the same. Really because your own part of Saskatchewan doesn’t have a high active case doesn’t mean that we should lag on some of those preventive measures that are so important,” Shahab said.

According to Shahab, and confirmed later by CBC, the 37 cases linked to nightclubs in Saskatoon were linked to the Longbranch.

 “I can’t separate the number out exactly from the first venue or the second venue. There can be secondary or tertiary and from the PA event already we are seeing now third generation, fourth generation transmissions. But at this point most of the cases are the second venue,” he said.

The outbreak related to Yorkton has gotten under control after a month because of additional precautions taken by people who were caught up in the outbreak.

“People who are symptomatic isolating, getting tested, having a list of close contacts ready to give to public health and they were following up quickly with close contacts who isolated so in case close contacts became symptomatic — and a significant proportion do — they were already isolated,” Shahab said.

These actions break the chain of transmission and the Yorkton area is now seeing a declining active case rate. Shahab explained that he hopes this happens with the case spikes in Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina with people taking similar actions.

Another positive, according to Shahab, is that less than five per cent of all cases cannot identify social transmissions.

“So while our rising case numbers are concerning, we still can, in the vast majority of cases, identify links to a known transmission event like a bar, a gym or a gathering that happened. So that is very important that we can identify sources of transmission and cases and contacts quickly,” he said.

Shahab thinks that the indoor maximum reduction from 30 to 15 people at Thanksgiving has made a difference.

 Shahab explained that the province is learning from each outbreak case.

“We know more about COVID now — about how it behaves — and we need to use that knowledge to keep our businesses open, keep our venues where we socialize open,” he said.

Shahab said that thus far since schools opened on Sept. 8 there have been some cases as expected with 62 cases in 50 schools. There are currently 22 with active cases and seven schools have had more than one case. The measures put in place by divisions in the Safe Return Plans have been effective such as staggered start times have helped. Shahab explained that you can’t prevent smaller numbers of cases but you can prevent larger outbreaks with these measures.

Recent school cases have included Ecole St. Anne, St. Francis and Prince Albert Collegiate Institute (PACI).