Household bubbles return, worship service expansions announced by province

Loosening of restrictions comes same day of confirmation of 44 cases of variants of concern – 29 in Regina

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The provincial government announced it is relaxing some COVID-19 restrictions.

On Tuesday, the government announced the return of so-called “bubbles,” consistent groups of up to ten people who can gather in-person.

Household gatherings have been limited to just five people, and all household members, since December.

“Residents who continue to observe all public health measures can extend their household bubbles,” the province said.

“Individual households may create a bubble up to a maximum of ten individuals in a home at a time.”

The ten people in a bubble should be from two or three consistent households and must always be the same people from the same households.

“You may not join multiple bubbles,” the province said.

Anyone considering forming a bubble should ask themselves whether they have a greater risk. That could include living with an older adult, living with children attending school or having adults working outside of the home in essential workplaces.

The province also asked residents if they can still count all potential contacts that the household makes if someone should get sick. If the risk is high, continue to only gather with your household, or choose another household, the province said.

Residents aged 50 or older should consider only spending time with their immediate household until they are able to be vaccinated.

All public health guidelines need to be followed outside of the home, including the limit of ten people at outdoor gatherings.

Those changes are effective immediately.

Also on Tuesday, the province announced that as of March 19, worship services will be allowed for up to 30 per cent capacity or 150 attendees, whichever is smaller. All existing public health guidelines remain in effect.

That includes maintaining two metres of distancing between household groups and continuous masking throughout the service.

Clergy are the only ones who can remove their mask while officiating, but they must stay at least 3m away from all others while their mask is removed.

No food or drink may be served and the guidelines do not apply to receptions or non-ceremonial gatherings.

Provincial lab detects more cases of variant

The Roy Romanow Provincial Lab ‘s initial survey of positive COVID-19 cases found 35 additional cases of variants of concern. Up until the survey results, Saskatchewan had only found a combined nine cases of the UK and South African variants.

The survey saw 190 cases sequenced for variants from positive tests between Jan. 26 and Feb. 27.

Sequencing began in march and results were reported Monday.

“The confirmation of 44 variant of concern cases present over the span of two months is an indication that variants of concern, particularly B.1.1.7 initially detected in the UK, are present in Saskatchewan and community transmission has been occurring over the last two months,” the province said.

“ This also indicates that while variant transmission has been occurring over the last two months, Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 data, including active cases, hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths, have continued to decline. Saskatchewan will continue to monitor for variants through targeted and randomized surveys of positive COVID-19 cases.”

Thirty-six cases of the UK variant have been found in the Regina Zone, and one each in the North West and Saskatoon zones.

North Central, which is Prince Albert’s zone, has been home to five confirmed cases of the South African variant. A single case has also been found in the South Central Zone.

Variants of concern have been identified as being more transmissible than the original version of COVID-19, and existing vaccines are somewhat less effective against the variants.

“The best protection against all COVID-19 variants remains the same as protection against COVID-19: stay home, physically distance, wash your hands frequently, wear a mask and get tested if you are experiencing even mild symptoms,” the province said.

One additional COVID death reported Tuesday

One individual who tested positive for COVID_19 has died.

The death was from the North West Zone and was reported in the 50-59 age group.

The province reported 113 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, along with 160 recoveries.

Four of the new cases were in the North Central Zone.

Three of those were in Prince Albert, which now has just 43 active cases.

The 1,414 active cases province-wide is the lowest count since Remembrance Day.

There are 139 people in the hospital, including eight inpatients in North Central. The province has 25 people in intensive care, including two in the North Central.

There were 1,874 COVID-19 tests processed in Saskatchewan.

The seven-day average of daily new cases is 141, or 11.5 per 100,000 population. That’s the lowest average since Nov. 13.

First shipment of AstraZeneca vaccine arrives

The first shipment of the two-dose AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Saskatchewan Tuesday morning.

The vaccine will be administered at a drive-thru location in Regina for eligible groups, including individuals between the ages of 60-64 and health care workers.

The latest Pfizer doses are also arriving this week. Prince Albert will receive 1,170 doses Wednesday.