Province confirms eighth COVID-19 case, says large gatherings ‘not worth the risk’

Dr. Saqib Shahab speaks to media during a COVID-19 update in Regina on Sunday, March 15, 2020. -- Screen capture.

An eighth case of COVID-19 has been detected in Saskatchewan.

The presumptive case was found in Regina in a resident who had attended the same Vancouver dental conference that led to two other Saskatchewan cases.

The resident, in their 50s, is self-isolating at home. Public health officials are following up with those who may have had close contact and may be at risk of developing COVID-19.

Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said five of the province’s eight cases have come from international travel and two from that dental conference. The other case was in a second member of the household of the first individual who tested positive from the dental conference.

There is still no evidence of community spread in Saskatchewan.

One of the individuals who tested positive is hospitalized due to other underlying health issues, and not due to the COVID-19 symptoms. Shahab said everyone who has acquired the disease in Saskatchewan is doing well and expected to make a full recovery.

“There is good evidence that people who have a mild infection clear it within 10-14 days,” he said.

At that time, the province’s public health office does a symptom review and people are cleared to return to work.

About half of the tests have been done in the southern part of the province, including Regina. A little under one quarter are from the north with the remaining from Saskatoon and area. Testing facilities have been set up in Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert.

A total of 1,107 tests have been performed. There are 46 cases where results are pending.

Shahab said the province continues to focus its testing on people who have travelled or attended large conferences and are showing symptoms, as well as people in hospital settings, long-term care homes and those who have a serious respiratory illness. He said family physicians can use their discretion for patients who have respiratory symptoms and have attended cultural gatherings, weddings, religious gatherings and conferences.

About 20 per cent of all tests have been done on health care workers, Shahab said.

“We should be testing (them),” Shahab said, “But it has to be done with some risk assessment.”

Shahab said some other provinces have experimented with mass testing, and “didn’t find it very useful.”

He said Saskatchewan wants to test everyone tho has travelled, especially health care workers, so they can get results and return to work if the test comes back negative.

He said social distancing measures, hand washing, staying home when sick and avoiding crowded spaces remain the best ways to slow or stop the spread.

“Most, if not all provinces, have school dismissed,” he said. ‘We’re having discussions on what further measures we need to take on limiting community transmission.”

While Saskatchewan hasn’t ordered facilities or bars and restaurants to close, many people are doing so on their own behalf.

“Many businesses are slowing down activity, many people are conscious about social distancing,” Shahab said.

‘As a province, we’re moving in the right direction given our case numbers. We want to continue moving int hat direction. We’re all still hunkering down at home and that’s where we need to be for the next few weeks.”

He praised people who are doing what they can — including shutting down businesses — to reduce risk. While some provinces and countries have seen cased increase rapidly, Saskatchewan is still sitting at just eight, only adding one or two per day.

“A lot of people are going well beyond (the recommendations),” he said. “It’s amazing to see how businesses are taking significant personal losses to minimize risk. That is true leadership.”

The goal, Shahab said, is to try to prevent community transmission in the province for as long as possible.

“It isn’t a virus that is spread easily,” Shahab said, explaining that it’s transmitted through surfaces or close contact, not through the air. “If we’re all observing social distancing, as long as we didn’t touch surfaces and don’t touch our eyes we’d be okay. I think (social distancing) is what we all have to practice int eh coming weeks and months.”

Large indoor gatherings ‘not worth the risk’, small gatherings of healthy people okay

Shahab also answered questions regarding whether the province will enact a State of Emergency and whether people should cancel family gatherings.

He said the province has discussed enacting a state of emergency on a daily basis but isn’t yet because it’s been able to do what it needs to under the powers of the public health act.

He also gave guidance as to what he would do if he had a wedding or family reunion planned int eh coming weeks.

“This is not the time to have that big indoor gathering,” he said.

“Even if you want to have a play date (with children home from school), maybe one or two people, not 20 in the basement. If I was you, I would cancel. It’s not worth the risk. This is not the time to celebrate together in the way we like — with hugging — it will come, but this is not the time.”

As for what people can do with their children, or on their own time, he said as long as that social distancing is maintained, the door is open. As the weather gets warmer, going outside could be the solution.

You have to watch small children, he said, to prevent them from putting things in their mouth as much as possible.

“Outdoors is a less risky environment,” he said, “but you can’t avoid everything.”

He also added that daycares will stay open for now, in part to support parents who do have to stay at work, such as essential services, health care, trucking and even retail employees.

“Those are all things that have to stay open. We need provisions to support people who have to go to work. We do want to move to the process where you minimize crowding of large groups in any age group, but that has to be done in a way parents can make alternate arrangements.”

He said kids can play outside, you can go for a run or a walk, but maintain that distance and refrain from touching surfaces and then your face.

“I think we need to be very cautious, but we do need to interact socially,” he said.

That could mean smaller gatherings amongst friends who aren’t showing symptoms and haven’t travelled or been exposed to someone who has.

But, he said, avoid touching your face.

“Once you come back, wash your hands very well.”