Saskatchewan

Sask. walks back chief medical health officer's pledge to share more detailed COVID-19 info

Saskatchewan's government will continue reporting COVID-19 numbers using six "huge"  location zones, contradicting what the chief medical health officer said weeks ago.

Ministry spokesperson says no 'public health benefit' to more information

Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, said at the beginning of June that the government would start releasing a more detailed breakdown of where COVID-19 cases were found in the province. (Canadian Press)

Saskatchewan's government will continue reporting COVID-19 numbers using six "huge" location zones, despite the province's chief medical health officer saying weeks ago that it would start releasing data in a more detailed map. 

On June 2 Dr. Saqib Shahab said that, when sharing details of where in the province COVID-19 cases were found, the government would begin to use a map that had 13 to 15 regions instead of the six it has used since the pandemic began. 

"Some of the zones that we have been using are huge and this will provide a bit more granular detail and we will be obviously monitoring that that is meeting everyone's needs as well," Shahab said at the time. 

He said the new map would include for each area the number of cases in the last two weeks, the overall testing rate and the rate of positive tests.

Experts, civilians and family members of Saskatchewan people who died after contracting COVID-19 had criticized the province for a lack of transparency. Other provinces have moved toward more transparent models, with some releasing information as granular as number of cases by postal code.

Dr. Anne Huang, a former deputy medical health officer for Saskatchewan and Health Canada, spoke with CBC earlier about data release and privacy. She said using postal codes wouldn't work for Saskatchewan's rural population, but suggested releasing the data in map form using the existing 38 Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) health network boundaries.

Almost one month later, Saskatchewan's government is still releasing data with the same six-region map format. A Ministry of Health spokesperson now says there is not "a public health benefit" toward releasing more specific data. They did not specifically answer why the map that Shahab referenced is not in use.

"Examples of this would be the recent public service announcement released on June 17, 2020 related to the outbreak in the R.M of Maple Creek and listing outbreaks in Saskatchewan," the spokesperson wrote. They also noted the case dashboard was updated to include key indicators and dynamic charts that reflect case and testing trends.

"At this time, as Dr. Shahab said, cases are very low and providing additional case details beyond what we have mentioned above does not have any public health benefit."

When Shahab said the more detailed map was on its way, 33 cases were considered active in the province. As of Friday, 105 cases were considered active, with the largest cluster of new cases being connected to an outbreak in two southern Hutterite communities. 

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