Northern Sask. medical health officer calls on province to reinstate isolation, masking measures

A medical health officer is calling for some COVID-restrictions to be reinstated to help northern Saskatchewan bring down its COVID-19 numbers.

At least 2 outbreaks reported in the north since restrictions were lifted on July 11

Dr. Nnamdi Ndubuka, a medical health officer for Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority, said he wants to see COVID-19 measures like indoor mask rules and mandatory isolation after testing positive to be reinstated. (Eric Gay/The Associated Press)

A medical health officer wants some COVID-19 restrictions to be reinstated to help northern Saskatchewan bring down case numbers.

Outbreaks have been reported in at least two northern communities — Buffalo River Dene Nation and Black Lake First Nation — since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted on July 11.

Dr. Nnamdi Ndubuka, a medical health officer for Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority, said there continues to be increased transmission — especially variants of concern — within those communities that are experiencing outbreaks. 

He said there have been almost 560 reported cases of variants of concern in total, 36 per cent of which are the delta variant.

"This is very concerning for us because the delta variant, as we know, is twice more transmissible than other variants of concern," he told CBC Radio's The Morning Edition.

LISTEN | Dr. Nnamdi Ndubuka spoke with host Stefani Langenegger on The Morning Edition 

Ndubuka said that, in particular, a lack of mandatory isolation is making it difficult to contain the virus.

Before restrictions were lifted, anyone who tested positive for the virus was required to self-isolate at home for at least 10 days.

Anyone who was caught not isolating was subject to a $2,800 fine. However, isolation rules on the provincial government's website now say a person "may be required to self-isolate immediately" if they test positive.

Ndubuka said that although he is able to write a mandatory isolation order, when he does there is no one to enforce it. 

"We're dealing with very difficult individuals who opt not to isolate and pose the risk to others in the community," he said.

"The issue here is the lack of enforcement.… We are dealing with several cases and we need something more broad and also [to] have the ability to enforce it."

The government has said localized health orders could be implemented in places that are experiencing an outbreak.

Reintroducing indoor mask rules in the north

Ndubuka said ending indoor mask rules has also made it more difficult to contain variants of concern in the north.

"The variants have changed the landscape not just in Saskatchewan, but for other jurisdictions as well."

He said the province's strategy needs to adapt to the current situation with variants of concern. Reintroducing mandatory masks in indoor places could be part of that.

"Because of the low vaccination numbers in the north, I think it calls for some of those measures to be re-looked at with the hope that they will be reinstated," he said.

"It is important to be cognizant of the local reality and those who support those areas as much as possible."

The province has reiterated that businesses are allowed to implement their own mask rules.

With files from The Morning Edition