Sask. has Canada's 4th-highest per-capita total of active COVID-19 cases

Saskatchewan may not be reporting thousands or even hundreds of cases a day, but the province has a higher active COVID-19 case total per 100,000 people than most of Canada.

U of S prof predicts targeted lockdowns to come

As of Sunday, Saskatchewan was reporting Canada's fourth-highest active COVID-19 case rate per 100,000 people. (Paul Ratje/AFP/Getty Images)

Saskatchewan may not be reporting thousands or even hundreds of cases a day, but the province has a higher active COVID-19 case total per 100,000 people than most of Canada.

Data shared by the federal government as of Sunday showed 53 people per 100,000 in Saskatchewan currently have COVID-19. 

Only Manitoba, Quebec and Alberta had higher totals by Sunday, at 150, 108 and 84 per 100,000 people, respectively.

Ontario was reporting 7,120 active cases of COVID-19 as of Sunday — 49 people per 100,000. 

University of Saskatchewan's Dr. Cory Neudorf, a professor of epidemiology at the college of medicine, said there are a number of factors he considers when assessing the provincial COVID numbers, per-capita totals included. They include test-positivity rates, R0, hospitalization numbers and deaths.

Saskatchewan comes in behind Quebec, Alberta and Manitoba in its per-capita totals of active COVID-19 cases. (Submitted by Government of Canada)

"We've been in a situation where the epidemic is growing for quite a few weeks already," Neudorf said. "We're just starting to see the impact of that on the numbers of new cases." 

He said days with slightly larger increases are often traced back to large events like those hosted at bars or nightclubs— or the event at the Full Gospel Outreach Centre in Prince Albert.

But he said Saskatchewan is also seeing cases increase that aren't tied to specific events or incidents.

Leaders say no to lockdowns

At a campaign event in Regina on Saturday, Sask. Party Leader Scott Moe was asked if he felt lockdowns would be necessary to quash the province's growing COVID-19 numbers. He said no. 

"People here continue to do the right thing, the vast majority of them do," Moe said. "We feel that the virus can be controlled in the weeks and the months ahead by exactly what Saskatchewan people are doing."

Moe said he's confident in the province's ability to track and trace cases of COVID-19 and cited recent outbreaks and the provincial response as evidence that the system works.

He said he's also confident that the province's willingness to fine those who "operate outside" of the recommendations of the chief medical health officer is an effective deterrent.

Moe said to reduce case numbers people in Saskatchewan need to ensure they're using masks when necessary, washing their hands as much as possible and keeping their gathering sizes within those outlined in the provincial guidelines.

"We've proven before that we can control the spread of this COVID-19 virus. We need to do it again now," Moe said.

In May, NDP Leader Ryan Meili called on the government to delay Phase 2 of the reopening. At the time, he said, "Business owners have more questions than answers about how to open safely,"

Meili also said the idea the NDP wanted to stop the reopening plan — a criticism levied by Moe —  was "preposterous."

"We want to come out of COVID-19 as successfully as possible, but we want to make sure that we do that safely and wisely. We do not want to see a situation where we're back in lockdown," Meili said.

Expect targeted restrictions, rather than lockdowns

Neudorf said because Saskatchewan is seeing COVID-19 cases spread through a broader age range, there may be more targeted messaging or restrictions introduced in the coming weeks. 

Since the general lockdowns in the spring, he said there's been time for different businesses and venues to figure out how to operate safely and make adjustments. 

He said one factor to be considered with targeted lockdowns is whether a specific industry has shown itself to be a greater risk for exposure — or only certain businesses within that industry.

Neudorf said if Saskatchewan gets to a point where hospitals are being overrun with COVID-19 cases, that's when a discussion around broader lockdowns should begin. But the province isn't there yet, he said.

He said it's understandable and reasonable that people may be experiencing pandemic fatigue, but the best way for people in Saskatchewan to avoid rising COVID numbers and wide-ranging lockdowns is to obey the physical distancing recommendations. 

"It's not going to get back to normal for some time yet. We don't have this under control. We don't have a vaccine yet," he said. 

"But it doesn't have to get back to how it was at the beginning stages. We've learned a lot. We have to apply that common sense and still be vigilant."

CBC Saskatchewan wants to tell more stories about how the pandemic is touching the province's most vulnerable and marginalized populations. How has COVID-19 affected you? Share your story with our online questionnaire.

With files from Adam Hunter