Prince Albert and region sees additional cases; 15th death reported

Saskatchewan's Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab. (Screenshot)

The Prince Albert region is a focus of concern for COVID-19. In a teleconference with reporters on Tuesday Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab pointed to an increase of hospitalizations in the northern part of the province including the area around the city without an increase of cases in the community and a lack of people coming forward for testing.

The area has seen two additional cases that are not connected since Friday increasing the number to six in recent days after 28 days without a case.

“I am aware of six so far within the last 10 days but it is an active ongoing investigation so this will continue to change and we will update in as near real time as we can,” Shahab said.

“The testing capacity is there but it appears people are not coming forward for testing if they have mild symptoms. This, again, is really important because through testing and contact tracing and isolation of cases and contacts, this is the only proven way that we can break the chains of transmission. So again the best way to prevent COVID is to maintain physical distancing, not go out if you are sick and use a mask if you cannot maintain physical distancing especially if you are indoors in a crowded situation. And the second to keep is seeking testing if you have symptoms because that allows cases and contacts to be isolated and breaks the chain of transmission and for any questions you can call 811 or talk to your local healthcare provider,” Shahab said.

The most recent death reported on Tuesday was also in the north.

That’s the region that includes Prince Albert. The individual was in their 20s, making them the youngest person to pass away from COVID-19-related symptoms in the province, and the fourth death from the north region.

“I would not be able to give any specific details of the recent death but I can confirm that we have had 15 deaths where COVID was one of the illnesses for hospitalization,” Shahab said.

The 20-39 age group has had the largest proportion of COVID-19 cases in the province, with 283, or 35 per cent, of all cases, however, only one case from this age group has resulted in a death.

“It really is a reminder for all of us that while serious illness and death may be rarer in people who are younger it does occasionally happen and it’s an unfortunate reminder that COVID does not discriminate by age or other factors it is a risk for all of us. And that is exactly why we need to continue to take precautions throughout the summer,” Shahab said.

Shahab said that we need to remember that most of the cases have been in this age range.

“And we continue to see an increasing number of cases in all age groups especially young. And this really is a reminder that as we enjoy the summer we need to continue to focus on physical distancing especially when we are outdoors,” he explained.

The province also announced one additional case Tuesday, bringing the total to 806. The new case was in the Saskatoon region and was tested out of province.

“Again it is important to remember that while our active case numbers went up due to the outbreaks in the northwest and southwest it is coming down, most people do recover at home and a total of 727 people now have recovered. Four people now remain in hospital, all are receiving inpatient care. We did have some ICU hospitalizations even in the younger age group and they have since been discharged as well,” he said.

“Hospitalization and death is more common the older that you are and if you have underlying health conditions. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that every death is a tragedy for the friends and family of the person who passes away and I think we need to respect their privacy.”

Shahab explained that the developments around Prince Albert are primarily sporadic cases with no links to another known case and some have resulted in hospitalizations. This means there is ongoing community transmission. Shahab explained that what the SHA has learned in relation to community transmissions over the past couple of months to interrupt them is to practice physical distancing and mask use and the second is testing.

“Testing is easy, it is quick, it is a simple test, a swab in your nose or mouth and what that enables us to do is that you as a case are isolated for 10 to 14 days and your close household contacts or other close contacts are notified to also isolate and to seek testing. That is the other proven way to interrupt community transmission, testing and case and contact follow up. So it remains important that even if you just have a headache or a mild cough with no fever do consider testing anywhere in Saskatchewan especially in the Prince Albert area because that is the only way we will break further chains of transmission.”

He said that the SHA is aware of activities in the Parkland area but everyone should practice these in a safe manner. Shahab explained that the Prince Albert health area will be issuing specific public service announcements on testing at some point in the future. He emphasized pausing and making sure you are practicing proper COVID procedures.

The levels of testing are similar to other areas of the province but they want to see an increase in baseline testing. The emphasis was also on the popular tourist areas around the city.

“The number of people coming to the beautiful area of Prince Albert and the parks in that area may be lower in terms of travellers coming from within Saskatchewan or other parts of Canada and certainly it would be extremely low or zero in terms of travellers coming and non-Canadians coming from outside of Canada, historically that is a very popular area to spend summer. But we do know that the population does increase over the summer and that just increases transmission risk because when you have a lot of population mixing, not just people from the same small geographic area but people coming in from other parts of Saskatchewan or even Canada it does increase transmission risks,” he said.

“Investigations to this so far do not indicate a link to either recent travel from outside of the PA area or Saskatchewan but the investigations are ongoing,” he added.

Shahab said it was great that the area did not have any cases for 28 days before this cluster arose.

The Public Health Officer is making a plan to increase testing for the city and other sites.

“Right now the concern seems to be not just in the City of P.A .but in the broad area north of P.A .where a lot of that holiday and recreational area is. That is the strategy currently for the P.A. area being developed,”

That includes Emma Lake and Waskesiu. Shahab could not give exact details on case locations but the concern was for the region as well as the city itself.

Of the 806 reported COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan, 54 are considered active, a decrease of five from Monday’s update. The recovered number has gone up an additional five to 737 from Friday.

There are still four people in hospital with illnesses related to COVID-19.

Three individuals are receiving inpatient care in the hospital; three in the north and one in Saskatoon, there are now no people in intensive care.

The total number of cases is 806, of those 338 of the cases are from the far north, 190 are from the Saskatoon area, 119 are from the north, 80 are from the Regina area, 66 are from the south and 13 are from the central region.

There are currently 55 cases who are health care workers; however, the source of the infections is not related to their work environments in all instances.

Of the 806cases in the province: 168 cases are related to travel, 482 are community contacts, which includes mass gatherings, 113 have no known exposures and 43 are under investigation by local public health.

The age breakdown shows 116 cases involve people 19 years of age and under, 283 cases are in the 20-39 age range, 253 are in the 40-59 age range, 133 are in the 60-79 age range and 21 are in the 80-plus range.

The gender breakdown shows 51 per cent of the cases being females and 49 per cent being males.

As of July 6, 69,890 COVID-19 tests have been performed in the province an increase of 404 from Monday.

SHA reminds residents to remain vigilant with COVID-19

In a separate release Tuesday the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) reminded Saskatchewan residents to not let their guard down when it comes to COVID-19.

As people take advantage of the warm weather to travel and extend their social circle, they should do so in a gradual and controlled way, keeping physical distancing and hand washing top of mind.

Residents are encouraged to remain vigilant and to continue implementing the proper COVID-19 protocols, including following physical distancing guidelines to maintain 2-metres of separation, implementing proper hygiene practices and complying with provincial health orders, including limiting the size of outdoor gatherings to 30.

“What happens tomorrow depends on what happens today”, states Dr. David Torr, Public Health Incident Command Centre Co-lead for the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

“COVID spread depends on how much we let our guard down.”

Anyone with symptoms should protect themselves and others, especially the vulnerable, by staying home, self-isolating and getting tested for COVID-19.

The SHA reminded everyone that COVID-19 has no boundaries and as a province we have a responsibility to support each other and continue to work together and stay positive.