Sask.'s top doctor says 'universal compliance' with health orders needed now more than ever as cases rise

Dr. Saqib Shahab said Tuesday that the next three months could be the most critical period Saskatchewan has seen thus far in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mandatory masking, other guidelines still in effect until at least Jan. 29

The province says order will be reviewed again on Jan. 29. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, said Tuesday that the next three months could be the most critical period Saskatchewan has seen thus far in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The provincial government has extended current COVID-19-related public health orders until at least Jan. 29, due to current transmission rates.

This means that indoor gatherings are still restricted to immediate household members only. People can still meet outside with up to 10 people, as long as physical distancing between households can be maintained.

All non-essential interprovincial travel is not recommended.

Restrictions on sports, fitness, dance and places of worship will stay in place. Mandatory masking is still in effect.

The province says the orders will be reviewed on Jan. 29.

With hospitalizations continuing to rise, Shahab said "universal compliance" is necessary, otherwise more restrictions will have to be put in place.

"There's nothing zero-risk. Every time you're outside in a public place, there is some risk, but if there's high compliance with the guidelines, that risk is low and we can keep case numbers at a manageable level," Shahab said. 

Shahab said it only takes five to 10 per cent non-compliance for numbers to begin rising quickly and that the 49 deaths in the province in the last 12 days are troubling. 

"The high case numbers we saw over the last three days will impact likely on higher hospitalizations and ICU admissions a week or two from now. Those are all things we need to watch," Shahab said.

Premier Scott Moe said he's confident that the current restrictions are enough. 

"The measures in place in Saskatchewan are not insignificant in any way," he said. 

"If we're not able to start to bend this trajectory down by the end of January, Dr. Shahab may have some more difficult decisions to make."

Moe cited some declining case numbers in December, but Shahab noted that the drop at the very end of December could have been artificial because of low test numbers. 

Moe said that he knows that people in the province are experiencing COVID-19 fatigue, especially coming off an unusual holiday season.

"We have to ask people, although they may be fatigued with the COVID measures that are in place, we need them to adhere to them just a little bit longer," Moe said.

"This is no time for us as adults to be making decisions that, quite frankly, are irresponsible and that are contributing to the spread."

Shahab said his team keeps a record of what other provinces are doing and how successful those restrictions are. Shahab said it's hard to pin down specific sectors responsible for causing a rise in cases where new restrictions would make sense.

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