Province reports 24 new COVID-19 cases in far north

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

Updated for the final time at 7:05 p.m., Wednesday, May 6.

The number of COVID-19 cases in the far north continues to climb, with 24 new cases reported in that area on Wednesday.

Of those 24 cases, 22 are in La Loche. There were no new cases in Prince Albert, and only one new case in the rest of the province to bring the total number of new cases to 25. All COVID-19 cases have been confirmed.

Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab called those numbers very concerning, but said they would continue to rise as long as testing levels increased. There have been 727 COVID-19 tests taken in the La Loche area alone as of Wednesday morning.

“We expect to see very active cases findings,” he said on Wednesday. “Ongoing cases that are mostly close contacts from initial cases are being found through active contact tracing, which is a good thing. While the case numbers are alarming, they are being generated through very active case finding, which allows cases, even if they’re mildly symptomatic, to be effectively isolated.”

Map courtesy of the Government of Saskatchewan.

There are now 194 active COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan, 138 of which are in the far north. Two more patients have recovered from the virus, bringing the provincial recovery total to 312.

There are currently 13 COVID-19 patients in hospital, nine of which are receiving inpatient care (seven in Saskatoon and two in the far north) and four of which are in intensive care (three in Saskatoon and one in the north).

Although Shahab was concerned about COVID cases in the north and far north, he said conditions have been much more stable in the rest of the province, which means the re-open Saskatchewan initiative can go ahead as planned.

Premier Scott Moe echoed those sentiments, saying that while the government would make as many resources as necessarily available to help northern communities, the rest of the province would begin the five phase reopen plan.

“We do have a challenge in the northwest…. It is my expectation as we look ahead in that northwest area that our testing numbers will increase,” he said. “It is my expectation that if there is an outbreak in any community or facility in this province that our testing numbers will increase in that area. I’m confident that we have the capacity to do that, but it’s not just about testing. It’s about having that contact tracing and the ability to isolate.”

Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) CEO Scott Livingstone said they are starting to see good news in the north, despite the surge in northern cases. In Prince Albert, there are no new cases linked to an outbreak in Victoria Hospital, and staff who were determined to be close contacts are starting to come back to work. An outbreak linked to a hospital in Lloydminster has also been contained, although the SHA plans to review those cases again before the end of the week.

“We are retesting staff that are currently on quarantine to ensure that even though they’re asymptomatic, they’re not going back into the work force after their 14-day isolation (while) infected,” Livingstone said.

As of Wednesday, 33,591 COVID-19 tests had been performed in Saskatchewan. There were 670 tests performed on Tuesday, May 5. That’s well below peak testing levels on April 8, when more than 1,000 tests were being conducted in one day.

Both Livingstone and Shahab said the low provincial testing numbers were due to decreased demand in the southern half of the province.