COVID-19 in Sask: More cases, more tests, but no hospitalizations

To recap: there is now one fully confirmed case and five presumptive positive cases in the province. No one has been hospitalized with a case of COVID-19 to date.

6 cases in Sask; Premier to address new preventative measures Monday

Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, on Sunday confirmed the plan to keep K-12 schools open, for now.  (Cory Herperger/Radio-Canada)

Click here for the latest file: COVID-19 in Sask: Large crowd ban kicks in but schools set to open, despite parents' concerns

Here's what you need to know:

Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer says Saskatchewan's K-12 schools will remain open as the province records a total of six cases — 5 presumptive, 1 confirmed — of COVID-19, all of which are linked to travel.

Dr. Saqib Shahab took questions Sunday morning from the media in Regina on the ever-changing situation. Rewatch the news conference here.

In a concurrent news release Sunday, the province laid out the criteria for closing schools during the current COVID-19 situation, including:

  • Evidence of sustained transmission within the community.
  • Rapid increase of local cases.
  • Transmission without a known link to travel or confirmed cases.

"At this point, with the number of cases we have and the fact that they're all travel-related, we really don't think that there's any reason to close schools anywhere in the province at this time," Shahab said. 

Teachers had concerns keeping schools open, however.

'We should not be doing unnecessary tests'

Shahab also stressed the importance of only seeking testing through the 811 Health line if you have recently travelled and have respiratory or flu-like symptoms

He said the province has received calls for testing from people who had recently travelled but did not have symptoms. 

"We should not be doing unnecessary tests," Shahab said.

According to the latest update provided on Saturday, 524 tests had been done by the end of the day Friday, with 44 pending results. 

The total test tally will be updated Monday to reflect the number of tests conducted over the weekend.

The latest test results in Saskatchewan as of the end of the day Friday. (Government of Saskachewan)

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4 new cases announced Saturday

On Saturday, the province announced four new presumptive positive cases cases in Saskatchewan, including a person in their thirties who tested positive on March 11 in the community of Southend, Sask., located 600 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon.

The Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority was the first to report that case earlier on Saturday, in a letter to the public from the authority's medical health officer, Dr. Nnamdi Ndubuka. The patient, a nurse at a Southend clinic, is self-isolating, according Ndubuka.

"The source of exposure is not clear at this time," Ndubuka told CBC News. "The individual did not spend much time at the clinic prior to self-isolation. The case is currently doing well and recovering at home. All contacts are being followed by public health officials."

People in the community are anxious, Ndubuka said, but plans are underway to test contacts of the patient who have symptoms. 

"Community members are being reassured and encouraged to remain calm, practice social distancing, routine hand hygiene, cough etiquette and staying home if sick."

The Saskatchewan government itself confirmed Saturday that the infected person in Southend is a health care worker with a recent history of travel to Nigeria and Germany, as well as Alberta.

Shahab, in his last news conference on Friday, said he was particularly concerned about the virus hitting northern communities. 

Many hand washing signs greeted visitors to the Saskatoon Cancer Centre on Friday. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

The other three new presumptive positive cases announced by the province Saturday were:

  • Two people in their 40s who live together in Regina. One recently travelled to Vancouver for a dental conference at which an attendee was later confirmed to have COVID-19. The pair was tested on March 13 and are self-isolating at home.  
  • A person in their 20s with a history of travel to Tennessee, U.S., who was tested in Regina and is now self-isolating and recovering in their home community.

The first two presumptive positive cases, announced last week, are:

  • A man in his 60s who had recently travelled to Egypt 
  • A person in their 60s who had recently travelled Oregon state in the U.S. and tested positive in Saskatoon on March 10.

Both of those cases are self-isolating at home. 

"There's nothing surprising in terms of how the cases are unfolding," Shahab said. "There's some reassurance that the rate is somewhat slow. And we would really like to keep it slow."

Also on Saturday night, Saskatchewan health officials launched new restrictions limiting public visitation of patients in some health facilities.

Patients in acute or critical care will be limited to one visitor, for example, and community and spiritual gatherings are on hold. Community volunteers aged 65 and older are being asked to stay home. 

On Monday, a province-wide restriction on crowds of more than 250 people will take effect. The step has already prompted some groups to announce closure or changes in service

How to get tested if you have symptoms and have travelled

On Saturday, the Saskatchewan Health Authority held a news conference where it addressed how people with a recent travel history and virus symptoms — including respiratory or flu-like symptoms — can get tested.

One fact that officials clarified is that people do not necessarily need a physical doctor's note to get tested.

Officials said the 811 Health line can directly refer people for testing to one of the expanded testing sites launched in Regina and Saskatoon late last week. A third such testing site opens in Prince Albert on Monday. 

COVID-19 testing sites have been opened in Regina and Saskatoon, and a facility in Prince Albert is set to open on Monday. (Nichole Huck/CBC)

The testing sites are only for referred patients. The goal is to not physically overload clinics or testing sites, where strict measures need to be taken to protect against the spread of the virus, officials said

"You do need a referral to a testing centre, which can be done either through 811 health line or through your family physician or nurse practitioners office," they said. 

Some people can even be tested at home, they added. 

Officials counselled people to be patient with the 811 Health line, even as the province acknowledged long wait times and pledged extra staffing to break the logjam. 

"We need to know what's out there," one official said of the virus and the need to stay on the line. 

A handy chart from the World Health Organization. (CBC)

Derek Miller, the authority's site command lead for the emergency operations centre in Saskatoon, offered a statistic that gave an idea of the province's preparations for COVID-19.

He said the authority typically orders 230,000 face masks per month.

"We put in an order to account for six months' worth: about 1.4 million masks. It is being prioritized. Globally there's a lot of demand for these kinds of supplies." 

Saskatoon jail quarantine reduced

On Thursday, about a third of the inmate population at Saskatoon Correctional Centre was placed in quarantine after one inmate claimed to have come into contact with someone in either B.C. or Alberta who was infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus. Visits at the jail were stopped. 

The Ministry of Justice confirmed Saturday that only one of the six units remained under quarantine, and that visitation had resumed. 

"Staff are continuing to take precautionary measures," a spokesperson said.

However, it remained unclear if the inmate who claimed contact had been tested and, if so, if he tested positive or negative. The Ministry of Justice referred that question to the Ministry of Health.

A health ministry spokesperson said they were not aware of the inmate's circumstances but that if the inmate had tested positive, he would have been announced as a presumptive positive case.

No inmate was cited Saturday in the announcement about the four latest cases.



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