Saskatchewan residents urged to stay home as much as possible, limit social contact as COVID numbers skyrocket

Saskatchewan's Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab. (Government of Saskatchewan/Screenshot)

Saskatchewan residents have to seriously reconsider going out to shop or meeting with friends, Premier Scott Moe and Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said Tuesday.

The advice comes as new COVID-19 cases hit 240 Tuesday. The province has 2,055 active cases right now — 38 per cent of all cases ever reported are active. Of those, 104 are in Prince Albert.

The Saskatoon zone led the case count in Tuesday’s update with 97 new cases. The Regina zone was next with 27, South Central with 23 and then North Central (which includes Prince Albert) and South East with 16 new cases each.

Of the new cases, 13 have pending residence information. Three cases with pending residence information from previous days were assigned to the North Central Zone.

Far North Central, which includes Black Lake and Fond du Lac, had five new cases Tuesday, bringing its total to 40.

On Monday, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix reported that Fond du Lac alone had 37 cases of COVID-19 since Nov. 6, despite its small population of just 906, while also battling a lack of clean drinking water.

Monday evening, the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority (NITHA) declared a COVID-19 outbreak from James Smith Cree Nation following an increasing number of confirmed cases with evidence of community transmission. They said that contact tracing is underway.

Saskatchewan has 71 people in the hospital. Fifty-six people are receiving inpatient care, including 30 in Saskatoon and six in the North Central. There are 15 COVID-19 patients in intensive care: two in north-central, seven in Saskatoon, two in Central East and four in Regina.

Monday saw 2,803 COVID-19 tests processed in Saskatchewan.

Tuesday, the province said private in-home gatherings can’t exceed five people. If your household is more than five people, that means that, aside from plumbers and other service providers, no one can come over.

Single residents can choose one other household to socialize with, the province added. All other social interaction should happen virtually.

“COVID-19 is now present in every part for the province and you should wear a mask in every part of the province,” Moe said.

“We’re now strongly recommending that only members of your immediate household be allowed in your home.”

One of the problems in recent weeks is individual people who tested positive came into contact with dozens of others, whether at work, at home or while out shopping.

Shahab said that about one third of residents have been very cautious and only gone out if necessary. A second third, he said, has gone out a bit more but still been cautious. They should work to reduce their exposure to the public even more.

A third group, though, has been out shopping a lot and failing to distance. They haven’t been careful about wearing masks and socially distancing at work. They’ve been going out to the bars with different groups of friends every few days.

As a result, Shahab said, they end up with dozens of places they could have contracted COVID-19, and dozens more they could have given it to.

“You’ve had hundreds of potential contacts,” he said.

“That’s the challenge. That’s where we need to slow down.”

You should, ideally, he said, be able to count on your hands the number of places where you could have been in contact or where you came into close contact with others.

The virus is spreading across the province, Shahab said, which is why they stopped issuing the potential exposure alerts. The reality, he said, is that you’re at risk anytime you’re outside of your household.

“Every location is a risk location,” he said bluntly.

“There’s no point (to those potential exposure notices) now. Every location you should consider to be a risk of infection. Everywhere you go you may be sharing COVID. You have to use those precautions at all times. That is how we have to navigate going forward.”

Keeping that in mind and limiting your physical interactions help slow the spread while also taking pressure of contact tracing teams. Recently, cases have had five to eight close contacts each, meaning each day there can be over 1,000 new people contact tracers have been tasked with tracking down.

“You can see very quickly how thousands of phone calls can be precipitated by one day’s cases,” Moe said. “It’s a herculean undertaking.”

“We need to bring down the number of contacts we have can a day-to-day basis – whether we’re going to work, going to a retail activity or other activity. We need to reduce our contacts as much as possible,” Shahab added.

Shahab said residents should think back to March, when few went out. People should act the same way, he said, with the added protection of wearing a mask.

“In March we saw empty parking lots and that was not a good situation. Now we see full parking lots. If you have a parking lot where you would see 100 cars, you should only see 50. You have to slow down,” he said.

That means only going out when necessary, keeping your physical circles small and shopping in off-peak hours. It also means washing your hands frequently, wearing masks and standing two metres or more away from others.

The province’s hope is to keep businesses open, but everyone needs to be mindful about where they go out and how they behave.

“For the next four weeks, everyone is encouraged to stay in touch with family and friends remotely if possible,” Moe said.

“If you absolutely must get together in person with someone from outside of your household, you should make every attempt for this to occur in a public venue such as a restaurant. We know that this is a difficult measure, but we know that much of the recent spread has occurred in private gatherings in our homes.”

Reducing our contacts is the only way to bend the curve, Shahab and Moe said, to slow the spread so it doesn’t take over the health care system, so it stays out of schools and long-term care facilities, and so people can think about getting together at Christmas. If the situation doesn’t improve, larger gatherings will remain off the table.

“Our hope and plan is to curve that prior to Christmas so we can actually have some degree of visitation over the Christmas holiday,” Moe said. “We have (five) weeks until the Christmas holiday season. This is a time for all of us to give some thought as to what that holiday season looks like. We have some work to do.”