Saskatoon

COVID-19 in Sask: 4 northern outbreaks now, including Beauval

Health officials say a patient at Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert tested positive for the novel coronavirus 10 days after being admitted.

Anyone who travelled through Beauval between April 12 and 27 should self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19

Prince Albert Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert, Sask., has been declared the site of a COVID-19 outbreak after one patient tested positive for the virus. (Ryan Pilon/CBC)
  • Saskatchewan reported 26 new cases Friday, including 19 in La Loche and area.
  • An outbreak at Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert was declared after a patient tested positive.
  • The province declared another outbreak in Beauval, Sask. Friday night.
  • Anyone who travelled through Beauval between April 12 and 27 should self-monitor for symptoms.
  • Health officials say they should have gone public sooner about a hospital outbreak in Lloydminster.
  • About 200 health care workers in Prince Albert and Lloydminster are self-monitoring or self-isolating.
  • Across Saskatchewan, there are 415 cases, with 112 considered active. 

Saskatchewan reported 26 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday — the largest single-day increase in more than a month, and the second largest increase in the province since the pandemic began. 

On the same day, health officials reported a new hospital outbreak in Prince Albert and on Friday night declared another outbreak in Beauval, Sask.

Most of the new cases announced Friday are in the province's north, where four official outbreaks have been declared: one in La Loche, one at Lloydminster Hospital and one at Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert.

Of the 26 new cases, 19 are in La Loche and the surrounding area, including Clearwater River Dene Nation. 

Four of the new cases are elsewhere in the north, including three cases in Lloydminster. Three new cases are in Saskatoon.

(CBC)

"We've very concerned with the increase in cases," said Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer.

While the initial cases reported in La Loche were connected to a COVID-19 outbreak at the Kearl Lake oilsands site in Fort McMurray, Alta., more recently "the current outbreak in the North is due to community transmission .... people who have been exposed in the community," he said.

Part of the increase is due to the province ramping up more testing, which naturally leads to more cases being detected, Shahab added. 

Apart from La Loche and Lloydminster Hospital, however, "the rest of Saskatchewan remains pretty quiet," Shahab said. 

The province reminded people Friday about the tightened travel restrictions imposed on northern residents. 

"The only people who should be travelling to the north are people returning to their primary residence, and people going to La Ronge or Stoney Rapids," according to a government release issued Friday afternoon. 

"No one should be stopping in-between communities or travelling between them."

"Avoid carpooling," Shahab added. 

Outbreak declared in Beauval, Sask.

Moments later, Scott Livingstone, the CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said the authority expected "imminently" to declare yet another outbreak, this one in Beauval, Sask., which is also in the north.

An employee of Beauval General Store tested positive on Thursday, the health authority previously reported. 

"This is a fast developing situation which we've just been alerted to," Livingstone said.

Then Friday night, the health authority issued a release that declared there was now an outbreak in Beauval.

It said contact tracing was underway, and also urged anyone who travelled through the community between April 12 and 27 to self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19.

Outbreak at Prince Albert hospital

Earlier on Friday, the Saskatchewan Health Authority declared a second hospital outbreak of COVID-19, this time at Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert.

While only one patient at the hospital has tested positive for the novel coronavirus and there are no signs of transmission within the facility, Dr. Khami Chokani, a medical health officer for the region, declared an outbreak because the patient was in the hospital for 10 days before testing positive.

The patient was admitted on April 21 for a non-virus medical issues, according to an SHA release.

"The patient initially tested negative before being transported to the Victoria Hospital. All patients under​go a thorough verbal risk assessment screen upon admission. This patient screened negative."

Then, on Thursday of this week, health workers decided another test was needed. The patient tested positive for the coronavirus. 

"We're currently working through the investigation and determining who was a direct contact and what actual staff will have to be isolated for an extended period of time," Livingstone said.

Approximately 200 health care workers from Prince Albert and Lloydminster are self-isolating or self-monitoring in the wake out of the hospital outbreaks, according to the health authority.

A worry about people avoiding care

Livingstone and Health Minister Jim Reiter were asked if people should still feel safe going to a hospital, given what happened at Victoria Hospital.

"This is a this is an insidious disease we're dealing with and it's caused havoc around the world," Reiter said. "But if you look at the record in Saskatchewan or our health care facilities — and we're taking nothing for granted — it's been very good."

Livingstone said the health authority is aware there are asymptomatic people out in the community and coming into health care buildings, but pointed to ongoing practices like the continuous masking of health workers and restrictions on visitors.

"The people have health-care needs and we cannot keep our facilities closed," Livingstone said. "The collateral damage that could be caused by not caring for people properly because we're only worried about COVID-19, it could be worse than COVID-19."

Dr. Susan Shaw, the health authority's chief medical officer, asked people who think they need care to "please call your family physician, call 811 [the province's health line]."

"I am worried that people are perhaps choosing to delay care," she said.

Emergency room still open

Victoria Hospital's emergency department remains open, but some changes needed to be made, including sending one intensive-care patient to Saskatoon.

The outbreak at Victoria Hospital was declared publicly more quickly than the previous outbreak at a hospital in Lloydminster, a city on the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan. 

The provincial government did not tell the public about that outbreak until Wednesday, but Dr. Mandiangu Nsungu, the medical health officer for the provincial health authority's northern region, said he determined there was an outbreak at Lloydminster Hospital on Sunday.

The Ministry of Health said it wasn't told until Monday. 

The La Loche outbreak

At the outset of the pandemic in Saskatchewan, Shahab expressed concern about the virus reaching the north.

As of Thursday, there were 58 cases in the far north — more than all others regions of the province combined. 

La Loche alone had 39 of those 58 cases, including Agnes McDonald, one of two patients at La Loche Health Centre to die from virus-related complications. 

The surge in cases prompted the province to delay the launch of Phase 1 of its Re-open Saskatchewan Plan in La Loche and Lloydminster. 

The province is sending more health-care workers to the La Loche area to help with contact tracing and testing, including door to door testing. 

More than 100 health workers in the province responded to a call for help earlier in the week, Livingstone said. 

On Friday, the health authority released more information on how the testing thresholds in the region will be relaxed to ensure more people get tested.

"This lower threshold means that in any household where a case had been identified, the entire household will be tested and given assistance and accommodation, where needed, to help people self-isolate in co-ordination with the local Emergency Operations Centre," according to the SHA's Friday release. 

Total hospitalizations detailed for first time

Twenty-five people have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since Saskatchewan began active monitoring of cases in the province, health officials confirmed Friday.

The Ministry of Health has previously reported daily on how many people are hospitalized at the time, but hasn't given a cumulative number. 

As of Friday, 10 people with COVID-19 were in hospital in the province, including three people under intensive care.

That's the most people who have been simultaneously hospitalized, as well as the highest number of simultaneous ICU patients, to date in the province.

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

All-platform journalist for CBC Saskatoon

Story tips? guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

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