Sask. confirms 8 new presumptive COVID-19 cases, declares state of emergency

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe. (Herald file photo)

The province has eight new presumptive COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday—bringing the total to 16—and causing it to declare a state of emergency.

With this, the Government of Saskatchewan has listed a new set of emergency measures:

  • Public gatherings larger than 50 people are prohibited.
  • All restaurants, bars and event venues must limit their seating to 50 per cent of capacity or up to a maximum of fifty people, whichever is lesser. All must be able to have a social distance of one to two metres between customers. Retail spaces including grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations are exempted from this policy, but must have processes to maintain a one to two metre separation.
  • All gyms, fitness centres, casinos and bingo halls are closed until further notice.
  • Residents are advised to limit any non-essential travel outside of Saskatchewan, with the exception of people who live in border communities and are commuting for work.
  • Any licensed restaurants and taverns in Saskatchewan will be permitted to sell alcohol as an offsale according to SLGA regulations indefinitely.
  • All crown utilities will implement bill-deferral programs allowing a zero-interest bill deferral for up to six months for Saskatchewan residents whose ability to make bill payments may be impacted by the COVID-19 restrictions.
  • All Government of Saskatchewan ministries, agencies and crown corporations will implement a phased-in work from home policy effective Monday, Mar. 23, applicable to employees deemed non-essential. This means that any employees able to work from home should do so immediately, while providing managers a period to plan for work-force continuity.

Two of the 16 cases have been confirmed at the national level, whereas 14 are presumptive, meaning they came back positive after a local, initial test.

According to a news release, 15 of the 16 cases are currently well enough to self-isolate at home, while the other one is in hospital for health conditions unrelated to the virus.

Here’s the information provided on the eight new presumptive cases:

  • A person in their 30s was tested in Regina.
  • A person in their 40s was tested following close contact with a previously announced presumptive positive case in Saskatchewan.
  • A person in their 20s was tested in Saskatoon following travel from Tennessee.
  • A person in their 20s was tested in Saskatoon following travel to Oregon, Nevada and Edmonton.
  • A person was tested in Moose Jaw following their travel from Vancouver.
  • A person was tested in Regina following their travel from Cancun, Mexico.
  • A person was tested in Regina following their travel from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
  • A person in their 40s was tested in Saskatoon following their travel from Vancouver.

“We have an instance where the contact investigation has not yet demonstrated a link to travel, which could signal local transmission. We will also see more cases linked to travel within Canada,” said Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer.

“Take this situation very seriously,” added Premier Scott Moe during a media update on Wednesday afternoon.

“As individuals, we all have a personal responsibility to ourselves, to our family, to our community. We have a personal responsibility to this province and to this nation.”

Both Shahab and Moe reiterated the importance of social distancing. Anyone returning from international destinations, including the United States, is required to self-isolate for 14 days after returning to Canada.

Shahab also emphasized “this is not the time to have close gatherings,” including reunions or weddings.

“Celebrations, we can delay,” he said. “You stay put, you stay at home, you get over it, that’s it.”

“If we are not able to flatten the curve, if we don’t take these social distancing measures seriously, there is no health system in the world that would be able to manage what will occur,” said Moe, adding restaurants and daycares should be prepared for full closures.

Saskatchewan’s NDP leader Ryan Meili, a Saskatoon physician, criticized the provincial government for being slow to respond to the pandemic.

“The state of emergency is late and it’s inadequate,” he said on Wednesday, questioning why the government waited until the 2:30 p.m. daily update to declare an emergency.

“We heard about the risk to the population and the kind of numbers we’re dealing with. If we’re going to reduce that and flatten that curve, we absolutely cannot be following other provinces anymore and being days behind them.”

Shahab said more than 80 per cent of people will clear the virus within 10 days, although they’re required to remain in isolation for 14.

You can use the self-assessment tool to determine if you should be tested for COVID-19.

SHA places visitor restrictions on all facilities

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) has placed visitor restrictions to all of its facilities to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The restrictions came into effect on Monday, and will remain until further notice.

Visitors are not permitted at SHA-operated hospitals, clinics and community and continuing care facilities, except for compassionate reasons. This includes if an immediate family member is visiting during end-of-life care, family of patients are visiting prior to major surgeries or visitors are aiding in clinical care.

In a news release, the SHA encouraged visiting through apps such as FaceTime, Skype or WhatsApp.

Under no circumstances, said the release, can you visit if you have respiratory, gastric or flu-like symptoms (common cold, diarrhea, vomiting), or if you have travelled outside of Saskatchewan in the past 14 days.

All community, foundation and other public and spiritual gatherings operated by the SHA are on hold until further notice. Services provided by community volunteers who are age 65 or older in non-essential services are also suspended.

During a media update on Wednesday, the SHA said its restricting visitor access through security guards and having few access points to the facilities.

Emergency Operations Centre Lead Derek Miller said HealthLine 811 is overwhelmed “to the extent of more than four times the regular routine calls.”

However, he said, a new phone system went live on Tuesday. It has a 500-line capacity, which can be expanded as needed.

“It allows for call back options so that if you call in and there’s a way to see or to speak with a clinician, then you can request a call back and so you’re not waiting on the phone,” said Miller.

It also allows for a distributed call response, so clinicians can respond to 811 calls in rural areas.

Testing sites in rural parts of the province will be available later this week.

Family physicians call for employers to temporarily stop sick note requirements

Saskatchewan’s family physicians are urging employers to follow legislation temporarily removing a requirement for sick notes among the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislation was passed on Tuesday, which also extends a leave to workers during a declared public health emergency.

Dr. Carla Holinaty, chair of the Saskatchewan Medical Association’s (SMA) family practice section, said physicians recognize employers’ contributions to preventing the spread of COVID-19, including having staff work from home.

However, writing sick notes puts extra work on doctors.

“(It) places extra duties on physicians at a time when they are dealing with a public health challenge that is unprecedented in its scope,” she said.

“Family physicians are putting their full effort into assisting patients with COVID-19 related issues, along with their regular patients. Their time is limited at the moment.”

The SMA represents 2,300 practicing physicians and is the provincial chapter of the Canadian Medical Association.