COVID-19 in Sask: 6 new cases, all from northern regions

The English River First Nation is reporting four new cases of COVID-19. Testing numbers are also on the decline across the province.

12 cases now confirmed in La Loche area in northern Sask., two in long-term care home

An English River First Nation press release says there are four new cases of COVID-19 in that community, the first time the virus has appeared there. (English River First Nation website)
  • 6 new cases confirmed April 22.
  • 5 of those in far north region, 1 in north region.
  • 61 cases considered active.
  • 5 people hospitalized, one in intensive care.
  • 12 cases recorded in La Loche area
  • Premier Scott Moe to hold live provincial address at 6 p.m. CST.

Six new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on Wednesday, all from northern Saskatchewan, including five in the far north region.   

A total of 326 cases are now confirmed in the province, including 61 cases that are considered active. 

The far north region includes the area around La Loche, where 12 cases have been recorded to date

"As contact tracing continues, we do expect additional positive tests results," said a statement from the Saskatchewan Health Authority regarding the La Loche area on Wednesday. 

The north region includes Prince Albert, North Battleford, Meadow Lake and Melfort.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority says the total number of cases includes four reported by English River First Nation.

A news release issued by the First Nation, located about 100 kilometres north of Beauval, said four positive cases were confirmed Monday night.

The band's statement said all of the infected people in the community had self-isolated, and contact tracing was underway to determine who those people had contact with to track the spread of the virus.

The statement said the English River First Nation had declared a state of emergency over COVID-19 on March 19. 

"Infectious diseases do not discriminate. We have seen that around the world and, despite our best efforts, it has made its way into our community," a comment from band councillor Katrina Maurice said. 

"We must contain the virus as best we can and we need everybody's help to do that."

Testing numbers fluctuate

On Friday, the province said it had conducted 885 tests in the last day. On Monday, that number dropped dramatically to 399 tests. The number of tests rose again on Tuesday to 510.

In Tuesday's update, Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone said the health authority has the capacity to do more than 1,500 tests per day, which Premier Scott Moe had set as a target for the end of the month. 

COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan as of April 22, 2020. (CBC News Graphics)

"We're just not seeing people show up with symptoms of COVID-19," Livingstone said on Tuesday. 

"We're also seeing in some cases a drop in the number of calls to 811 in other areas. That doesn't mean we don't have the ability to test more. We're just not seeing those patients."

Health officials said the reasons for reduced testing numbers include lower rates of transmission and the end of the flu season. 

The province is also planning to open testing sites in more locations, which it says will help monitor any impact on the number of cases when restrictions are relaxed.

To date, the province has conducted more than 24,000 tests for COVID-19.

Livingstone said testing and contact tracing will be key as pandemic restrictions are lifted.

Premier Scott Moe is expected to release the provincial plan for how some businesses can start operating again during the pandemic today.

Second long-term care resident tests positive

The province has its second case of COVID-19 in a long-term care home resident as La Loche Mayor Robert St. Pierre says another patient has tested positive for the virus at the La Loche Health Centre and Hospital. 

The first case was announced by provincial health officials late last week, and on Wednesday, St. Pierre said subsequent testing confirmed one more case in the facility and the second recorded in a long-term care patient in the province.

"As we go through this, we just have to deal with what we're dealing with," St. Pierre said. "We can hope for the best, but sometimes, we got to be realistic and understand that this virus is going to go the way it's going."

St. Pierre said an incident command outpost has been established in the community, noting those who will be helping with the community response will get training from the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency Wednesday evening. 

He said contact tracing is ongoing in the community as the far north region, which includes communities like La Loche and La Ronge, is the location of more than 25 per cent of Saskatchewan's active cases. With 16 active cases, the far north region is outpaced only by Saskatoon, the province's largest city.

St. Pierre said provincial bodies are keeping community leaders in the loop, and residents need to trust health officials are taking the right steps. 

"They should trust that the health facilities are doing what they need to do to contain this," he said, noting everyone in the northern communities need to strictly abide by the public health orders in place. 

"Remember, the virus doesn't move," he said. "People move the virus."

CBC reached out to the Ministry of Health for more information about the second case in long-term care, but a response was not immediately received. 

Of the total number of cases reported in the province, 36 are health-care workers, although the province said their infections may not be health-care related.

Five people are currently hospitalized, including one in intensive care. A total of 261 people, or 80 per cent of reported cases, have recovered.

With files from The Canadian Press