Province extends public health measures until April 26

Health Minister Paul Merriman speaks to media in Regina in this file photo from March 2020. File photo.

On Tuesday, the provincial government changed Saskatchewan’s Public Health Orders to limit all household bubbles to immediate households, and cap worship gathering sizes at no more than 30 people.

According to Health Minister Paul Merriman, the decision was made because the level of transmission of COVID-19 remains too high in the province.

“We had hoped to avoid reinstating these restrictions but it is something that we need to do for just a few more weeks until we can get some more people vaccinated,” Merriman said during a press conference on Tuesday.

“Effective immediately all private indoor gatherings are restricted to immediate household members only with limited exceptions for co-parenting arrangements, caregivers and service people. Maximum capacity at places of worship will be reduced to 30 people effective this Friday. Again these new measures will apply to the entire province,”

The household bubble changes are effective immediately. The new worship gathering limits begin on Friday, April 16.

These new measures remain in effect until Monday, April 26 and will be reviewed at that time.

According to Merriman, the numbers have stabilized in Regina and parts of the southeast, even though the high number where cases stabilized is a concern.

“We have to make that decision based on what we have at that moment in time and it’s sometimes easier to look backwards and say well we could have done this or could have done that but we have to make the very calculated decision at that time on what we are doing and at that moment in time we wanted to reinforce Regina,” he said.

Merriman explained that the measures are for the entire province because even though cases are low in some areas, the transmission has been increasing in many areas.

“Until more of us get vaccinated there is still a chance of catching COVID-19,” he added. “I strongly believe we are getting close to having enough public vaccinations that we can begin to relax public health orders and restrictions but we’re not there yet.”
“So thank you to everyone in Saskatchewan for all you are doing, for all of the sacrifices you have made and continue to make. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to get their shot and everyone who is patiently waiting we will get to you as soon as we can. So when it is your turn roll up your sleeve and stick it to COVID.”

Specific public health orders for the City of Regina were also extended until April 26, but otherwise remain unaltered.

Due to increased COVID-19 transmission risk in Regina and area, revisions were made on March 24. These included closing all restaurants and licensed establishments for in-person dining; and most event venues supporting 30 persons or less are not permitted to operate.Travel is also not recommended in or out of the Regina area unless absolutely necessary.

Vaccination is still the driving force of the provinces plans. Merriman said that there have been over 300,000 vaccinations in Saskatchewan and 70,000 were delivered last week.

Merriman described the vaccination program as the largest ever in the province.

“We have now vaccinated more than 80 per cent of everyone 70 and older, more than two thirds of everyone 60 and older and more than half of everyone in Saskatchewan age 50 and older. Our age-based sequencing is working well. We are getting as many people as possible vaccinated quickly as possible and we are protecting those most at risk for serious outcomes,” Merriman added.

“I am so pleased that we have been able to compliment our age based system with a number of priority groups. And yesterday we were able to include frontline workers to those priority groups without compromising the success of our vaccination program,”

The province also announced Tuesday that the eligible age for booking vaccination appointments online or by telephone is also being lowered from 55 to 52. This change will take effect at 8 a.m. on April 14.

There are also several changes being made to the vaccine delivery plan to include more vulnerable groups to priority vaccination including all pregnant woman, young adults ages 16 and 17 who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over the age of 40 in the far north.

Pregnant women and vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds will receive an eligibility letter from their physician and will need to use the 1-833-SaskVax telephone number to book.

According to Merriman the province is also looking into a Saskatoon Drive Thru similar to the one in Regina.

Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab explained that people must do all they can to keep numbers low throughout the province to let vaccination catch up. He explained that the overall case numbers per 100,000 are trending up and that statistic is slightly higher in Regina where variants of concern (VOC) have taken hold. Shahab also added that Saskatoon is on the cusp of what happened in Regina with regard to variants.

“We saw that when the variants of concern came in Regina they came very quickly, they became the predominant strain and then that caused an escalation in case numbers very quickly. So Saskatoon is at the cusp because of a few things, one while their overall numbers remain low throughout March while the numbers in Regina were high, the numbers are now trending up and while their variants of concern were as low as 16 per cent last week they are now in that 30 to 40 per cent range. The proportion of the new cases that are variants of concern are trending up,” Shahab said.

“(A) majority of the cases now in Regina and Central and southern parts of Saskatchewan are variants of concern. And of course we are very concerned that Saskatoon also case numbers are trending up, the test positivity is going up…and the proportion that are variants of concern are going up as well. So that’s why Saskatoon really has to work hard to avoid having Regina’s trajectory,” he added.

According to Shahab the two main sites of transmission in the province are household and workplace.

“We do have to stick to our own household indoors and that is what worked for us in December and we really have to go back to that as well as worship services going back to 30 starting on Friday so really back to our measures that we had in December. And then in the north as well case numbers remain not as high as in the south we really have to be very careful because in some cases we are seeing more proportion of variants of concern. And we also have to make sure that testing rates remain high and they are lower in some areas and it’s important that we seek testing when we are symptomatic, we stay home and follow all public health guidance,” Shahab said.

“The second area of transmission continues to be workplaces and that is what it remains critical that we talk to our employers and our coworkers and see what work can be done safely from home for, what work do you have to go to a site, either an office or other site and what are the protocols that we are all using in our workplaces and how we can further enhance them.”

The reproductive rate has returned to over one which means that exponential growth is happening in the province. The reproductive rate dipped in December and came down in February which was the end of the second wave according to Shahab.

“It has come up again above one, primarily driven initially by Regina but now increasingly by the south and the rest of the province as well. Again we need to keep this not just at one but well below one because we all know variants of concern are 60 per cent more transmissible. So one is not enough it has to go at that .6 number again and we really have to work hard to get there,” he explained.