COVID-19 in Sask: 'COVID is here for a while,' Moe says

Restrictions on public gatherings and visiting family in long-term care homes are not likely to be lifted for a while, Premier Scott Moe said.

Restrictions on public gatherings, seeing family members in care likely won't be lifted anytime soon: premier

Scott Moe, premier of Saskatchewan, and Saqib Shahab, chief medical health officer, arrive to a COVID-19 news update at the Legislative Building in Regina on Wednesday March 18, 2020. Saskatchewan declared a provincial state of emergency Wednesday as the number of COVID-19 cases in the province doubled to 16. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press)

Click here for the latest: COVID-19 in Sask: Why testing numbers are down

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says the province's state of emergency will remain in place for at least two more weeks and that hallmarks of Prairie life like Saskatchewan Roughriders football games are not likely to return for months. 

"COVID is here for a while — for a number of months for sure before we have access to a vaccine," Moe said on Wednesday. 

News of the emergency extension came the same day health officials reported three new cases of COVID-19 in the province. Overall, the number of recoveries continues to outpace new cases. 

Here's how Saskatchewan's COVID-19 cases break down across several categories. Note the increasing gap between active cases (red) and recoveries (yellow). 

'High-risk' restrictions not being lifted anytime soon

After recent talk of potentially reopening parts of the economy, Moe cautioned that restrictions on some "high-risk" activities won't be lifted any time soon.

That includes mandatory self-isolation for 14 days after returning to Saskatchewan (even from the United States), and a ban on visiting family and friends in long-term care homes.

"We will continue to recommend against any unnecessary travel," Moe said, making a distinction between the self-isolation order, which is law, and the travel guidance, which is not. 

Moe said the restriction on gatherings of more than 10 people will also not likely change soon, even though, as he joked, the Saskatchewan Roughriders remain a "heavy favourite" among Prairie sports fans. 

The Canadian Football League has stated its season won't start any time before June 30.

"If we were to start to expand that," Moe said of the 10-person cap, "it wouldn't be to the 10,000 or 15,000 [mark] that would allow for those types of sporting events to go on into the foreseeable future. That would be months. We would look at creeping that up in a similar fashion as we went down 10 [people in a mass gathering] to maybe 25 to maybe 50."

Moe has said that a plan on reopening some parts of the economy will be released next week.

Asked specifically what currently-shuttered businesses might first reopen their doors to customers, Moe said next week's update will include "a much more definitive list of what we are looking at, with some time for those businesses to prepare."

"We are not just in in one fell swoop in any way going to reopen the economy," he said. 

Schools not likely to reopen soon: premier

When it comes to potentially reopening schools, Moe said that was not likely to happen this school year, but that his government had not had that discussion.

"It's not a perfect situation but I think everyone is making the best of it," Moe added, citing options like online learning. "From what I hear, that is going quite well. Not without its challenges, for sure, but it's going reasonably well given the circumstances."

More than two-thirds recovered

Another 18 people have recovered from the virus, meaning that out of Saskatchewan's total 304 cases, 67 per cent of cases (205) later tested negative upon re-testing. 

Notably, while eight people in total are in hospital, none of them are under intensive care, as has been the case for days.

Asked why testing numbers have significantly decreased in recent days, Moe said it's because the number of requests for testing has diminished. The drop in demand comes at the same time the province has vowed to ramp up testing to 1,500 tests a day by the end of April.   

Here's now Saskatchewan's 304 cases break down regionally as of Wednesday.


Travel-related cases come to a standstill

Saskatchewan's top public health doctor has stated for weeks that the province is in the community transmission phase of COVID-19. Recent numbers bear that out.

Saskatchewan health officials recently began breaking down cases in two key categories: "travel-related" versus "community contacts." The latter category includes people who received the virus from someone they live with, as well as people who attended recent events or mass gatherings.

As expected after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau implored all international travellers on March 23 to return home to Canada, the number of travel-related cases in Saskatchewan has dwindled, especially in the last two weeks. 

On Tuesday, not a single new travel-related case was announced in Saskatchewan. The same held true on Wednesday. 

International passengers are pictured through a medway at the Vancouver International Airport (YVR) in Richmond, B.C., on March 17, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Here's how cumulative travel-related caseload has unfolded in the province over the last two weeks, with each day's new increase in cases in parentheses:

  • April 15: 131 (0).
  • April 14: 131 (0).
  • April 13: 131 (2).
  • April 12: 129 (3).
  • April 11: 126 (3).
  • April 10: 123 (1).
  • April 9: 122 (3).
  • April 8: 119 (4).
  • April 7: 115 (3).
  • April 6: 112 (3).
  • April 5: 109 (3).
  • April 4: 106 (4).
  • April 3: 102 (6).
  • April 2: 96 (9).
  • April 1: 87 (N/a).

80-case increase among community contacts in 2 weeks

The community contacts category is a different story.

Between April 1 and April 14, the number of community contact cases increased by 80, compared to a 44-case increase during the same period in the travel-related category.

Here's how the recent caseload for community contacts breaks down, which each day's increase in parentheses:

  • April 15: 122 (2). 
  • April 14: 121 (1).
  • April 13: 120 (8).
  • April 12: 112 (6).
  • April 11: 106 (3).
  • April 10: 103 (7).
  • April 9: 96 (6).
  • April 8: 90 (10).
  • April 7: 80 (3).
  • April 6: 77 (6).
  • April 5: 71 (6).
  • April 4: 65 (7).
  • April 3: 52 (8).
  • April 2: 44 (3).
  • April 1: 41 (N/a).

One thing we still don't know is exactly how many people's exposure to the virus was traced back to an event or larger mass gathering, as that sub-category is broadly grouped together with people who became infected by a household contact. 


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