COVID-19 in Sask: Province marks 'sad milestone' of first 2 deaths

Both people were in their 70s, but neither lived in long-term care homes, officials said

Both people were in their 70s, but neither lived in long-term care homes, officials said

Saskatchewan has reported its first two COVID-19-related deaths. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)
  • Saskatchewan has reported its first two COVID-19-related deaths.
  • There are now 176 COVID-19 cases in the province, up by 20 since Sunday. 
  • An RCMP member in Prince Albert has tested positive. That's near the site of a recent snowmobile rally supper that's become a Saskatchewan COVID-19 flashpoint.
  • Fourteen people have now recovered from the virus. 
  • Families are struggling with the current hospital visitation restrictions
  • Remote learning kicks in for students this week. 
  • Opposition Leader Ryan Meili says the province still isn't testing enough people.

Almost three weeks after the province reported its first case of COVID-19, Saskatchewan has announced its first two deaths related to the novel coronavirus. 

"This is a sad milestone in our fight against COVID-19. It's sad but not unexpected," Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health office, said at a news conference Monday. 

Both people were in their 70s and died on Sunday in separate parts of the province. They were part of a 65+ cohort that has so far only accounted for 16 per cent of the province's COVID-19 cases.

Shahab declined to say where the two seniors died. 

"We do not want to release any further information about where deaths have occurred," Shahab said. "It's a very stressful time, sad time, for family. We don't want to do anything that would invade their privacy."

He added that while the province reports on the number of cases in different regions because the public wants to know, that information is not valuable in and of itself.

"If I live in a part of the province where there's less cases ... it does not help in changing my behaviour anyway because I have to behave exactly the same anywhere in the province in terms of physical distancing."

Here's how the province reported the deaths in its daily cases table. 

(Saskatchewan government)

Ryan Meili, the leader of the Saskatchewan NDP, disagreed with Shahab and said the province can strike a balance.

"That information matters and should be shared," Meili said. "If someone is from too small of a town, say 'Yorkton area' or 'near Meadow Lake.' This can be done responsibly. 

"Not sharing that information leaves communities more vulnerable." 

Shahab did confirm that none of Saskatchewan's coronavirus cases so far have been people in long-term care homes. 

One of the deaths reported Monday was linked to recent travel. The other is a case of community transmission, Shahab said. 

Total cases now at 176

Saskatchewan has now reported 176 cases of COVID-19, including 14 people who have recovered from the virus. That's up from 156 cases, including eight recoveries, on Sunday. 

Here's how the cases break down regionally as of Monday:

(Duk Han Lee)

Five people who tested positive for the virus remain in hospital, including one person under intensive care in Regina. The other four are in acute care.

Dr. Susan Shaw, the health authority's chief medical officer, was asked Monday if any ICU cases had recovered.

"There have been patients that have been able to leave the intensive care unit," she said. 

Many cases linked to 3 events

Of Saskatchewan's total cases, at least 38 are related to three events that have come to be known as COVID-19 hotspots.

That includes one event that took place in Saskatchewan two days before a ban on group gatherings of more than 250 took effect.

  • Three people attended the March 5 to 7 Pacific Dental Conference in Vancouver.
  • Eleven "front-line health care staff and physicians" (according to Shahab) from Regina, Saskatoon, and Prince Albert went to a March 11 to 14 curling bonspiel in Edmonton.
  • Twenty-four people went to a snowmobile rally north of Prince Albert on March 14 and later tested positive for the virus. That's up from a previous estimate of 20 people. 

In all, about 250 people attended the snowmobile rally at Christopher Lake, while about 130 people went to the supper, health officials said over the weekend. 

3 people went to supper with symptoms

Three people at the supper went to the event while having symptoms of COVID-19, said Dr. Khami Chokani, the Saskatchewan Health Authority's medical health officer for the Prince Albert region.

Health officials said late last week they had reached out to another 56 people who attended the event (beyond the 20 initially reported as having tested positive) but that they did not have a complete guest list for the supper.

On Monday, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) said it was sending extra people to the Prince Albert region to help with contact tracing related to the event.

"The SHA already has up to 150 people involved in contact tracing," the government said in a release Monday afternoon. "Over the coming days, 50 additional staff from across government will be moved into this key role. The need for additional resources will be assessed as the situation evolves."

RCMP member tests positive 

The Saskatchewan RCMP announced on Monday that a member had tested positive for the virus on Saturday — the first Mountie in the province to be publicly disclosed as a case. 

The officer, who was not named by RCMP in the announcement, first learned they may have been exposed on March 25. That's the same day the Saskatchewan Health Authority said it first learned of a Christopher Lake supper rally attendee testing positive.

The officer immediately self-isolated, the RCMP said in its release. 

It's not clear if the RCMP member is among the new pool of cases announced Monday.

As well, two more corrections staff at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre have tested positive, on top of the two last week.

During the day's press conference, Shahab said Saskatchewan is entering a new phase of its fight with COVID-19 where "we are regularly getting cases that are linked to community transmission." 

'Hope that we start to see a levelling'

Shahab was asked Saturday if Saskatchewan is on track to flatten the curve.

"We feel that if people who have been coming back to Canada observe those protocols, we can reduce further transmission," Shahab said.

Group gatherings of more than 10 people are now illegal, he added. 

"While we love celebrating and getting together in Saskatchewan, this is not the time," he said. 

On Monday, Moe said that over the next week, with the measures taken so far, "we would hope that we start to see a levelling or a slowing of the rate of cases in this province."