Saskatchewan reminded pandemic isn’t over

Residents still need to follow public health orders and should start thinking about how they’re going to respect physical distancing and stay cautious as phase 3 of reopening plan approaches, province says

SHA executive director John Ash, medical officer of health Dr. Shaqib Shahab and Health Minister Jim Reiter hold a press conference on the province's response to COVID-19 on March 11, 2020. (Screenshot/Government of Saskatchewan)

While the number of new COVID-19 cases may be dwindling, the premier warned residents Thursday to remain vigilant as the risk of contracting the illness caused by the novel coronavirus remains.

Scott Moe’s comments came during a media briefing, held alongside Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab. Much of the news conference focused on questions regarding Phase 3 of Re-Open Saskatchewan, set to launch on June 8 despite three deaths this week and an outbreak declaration in Saskatoon.

Despite those deaths and the outbreak, Moe said recent case counts show that the majority of residents are getting the message when it comes to social distancing and limiting their contacts with others.

There were only two new positive cases identified Thursday. One was in Saskatoon and the other in the north region. There were nine new recoveries, bringing the total number of active cases to 61.

Four people are in the hospital. One is receiving inpatient care in Regina, while three are in intensive care in Saskatoon.

Moe noted that the number of new cases had declined each week in May, even as more businesses reopened province-wide.

“Saskatchewan has done a really good job throughout the month of May,” he said, adding that “this week, we were reminded that the risk has not gone away.”

This week an outbreak was declared in Saskatoon after a pair of family events with more than a maximum of ten people took place. The events resulted in a handful of confirmed and presumed positive COVID-19 cases and involved the sharing of food.

Little information has been made publicly available about what the nature of the events was, or where they took place, thought the province says the outbreaks have been contained and contact tracing and isolation has been done.

“It’s a reminder for all of us that we need to remain vigilant,” Moe said.

‘We all need to keep physical distancing. Even if we’re having a barbecue that’s under the limit, we still need to be careful.”

“The lesson we all need to learn is we all have to be thoughtful whenever we have gatherings of any size,” Shahab said.  “I think just being thoughtful about why ware we having a gathering, how we’re going to lay things out, how we can serve food on a prepared plate and not have everyone help themselves. We all have to start thinking about if we are having a small gathering, keeping it as small as possible and how we can minimize exposure.”

Shahab said that’s extra important as the province moves towards phase 3, which is set for June 8. That phase of the reopening plan will see restaurants open at reduced capacity and other community and personal services, as well as retail locations, open their doors.

Moe said considerations are being made to expand other services, such as allowing some religious gatherings, to open up in phase three. Those conversations are happening between the business response team and the public health department.

 “I would like the public to think about when phase three starts, how they will engage in a safe manner because that is going to be a different environment.”

Shahab said things like eating out are far different from going shopping.

“You’re maintaining the same group but having the pleasure of eating out instead of taking food out. How do we engage in some of those activities that give us pleasure and support the economy in a safe way?”

Shahab said residents should continue to question whether gatherings are necessary and to avoid them if they’re sick.

He also hinted as to what might come in phase 4. He said residents are asking about opening playgrounds or taking part in outdoor sporting events, which are key for physical health.

“We’ve already seen that you can do lots of things outdoors in a safe manner, but that’ something we’ll be looking at in terms of some guidelines for those types of outdoor recreational activities that can start in phase 4.”

Moe said the June 8 day for phase 3 is still a go. Phase 3 will also see group gathering limits increased to 15 for an inside event and 30 for an outside gathering.

‘We’re moving towards the June 8 date quite deliberately, given the numbers that we have here today,” Moe said.

“What happened in Saskatoon, notwithstanding that there was a large gathering that there shouldn’t have been — we’re going to have continued regional outbreaks. We are very confident we have the testing and contact tracing to ensure we can keep that at a very small level and not have them extend across the province and have a province-wide pandemic.”

When it comes to testing, after seeing a lull for a couple of weeks, there has been an increase once again due to the expansion of testing capacity. Officials confirmed Thursday that the increase in testing, and in calls to the Healthline, are due to broader testing criteria that allow anyone working outside of the home to get tested.

Widespread, effective testing, contact tracing and isolation is key to containing the spread of COVID-19.

So far, 45,869 tests have been performed in the province. for a rate of 34,883 people per million population. The national rate is 40,658 per million.

“We’re quite confident in our ability to achieve … a sustained lack of spread of this virus in the weeks, months ahead after given what Saskatchewan people have proven they’ve been able to do over the last couple of months,” Moe said.