Sask. sites provide place for many to self-isolate — including some COVID-19 isolation scofflaws

Saskatoon police Deputy Chief Mitch Yuzdepski said the service has been working with the Saskatchewan Health Authority since the beginning of the pandemic, and that collaboration now includes transferring people to a secure facility in North Battleford.

Province says it's aware of 23 people who have had to use assisted self-isolation sites due to non-compliance

Some people who are flouting isolation orders in Saskatoon are being detained at secure facility in North Battleford under the province's Public Health Act. (Alicia Bridges/CBC)

Mervin Checkosis is waiting to go home.

He's got a residence on Poundmaker Cree Nation, but due to the fact he was a close contact with a positive case of COVID-19, he's been asked to self-isolate for 14 days and is stuck in Saskatoon as a result.

Without friends or family, he's currently staying at a Saskatoon hotel — what the province calls an assisted self-isolation site, run for those who have to isolate, but don't have a safe place to stay.

"They're going out of their way and they're doing a great job within their power to make it as comfortable as they can," Checkosis said, noting those in isolation have had access to food, snacks and activities to keep them busy as they count down the days.

"It is lonely at times, but it's for the better," he said. "I don't want to be out there spreading something that's potentially life-threatening." 

However, he says some people just aren't staying put. 

"I have seen some people just up and leave."

Mervin Checkosis is currently isolating at a hotel in Saskatoon. He says while officials are doing their best to make sure everyone's needs are met, not everyone is willing to stay put until the end of their isolation. (Supplied by Mervin Checkosis)

The total number of people who have been detained for not following isolation orders in Saskatoon is unclear, but some have been sent to a secure facility in North Battleford that's been set up by the government for those who won't co-operate.

The Ministry of Health says 10 of the 23 people it is aware of who required an assisted self-isolation site due to non-compliance with isolation orders since April were sent to the North Battleford facility.

'Individual care plans' in place: SHA

A Saskatchewan Health Authority statement said staff at the site in Saskatoon work in conjunction with partners from Emergency Social Services to ensure that clients are "are provided with opportunities to be successful when they are required to isolate due to either being COVID-19-positive, symptomatic and awaiting a test result or a close contact."

The statement explained the sites provide spaces for individuals to isolate when they do not have the resources to do so on their own, with health officials trying to support those in isolation as best as possible. 

"For clients who find isolation to be very challenging, we work to create individual care plans to support their specific needs," said the statement.

"We use a holistic approach to care and utilize many engagement and harm reduction approaches. We understand the need to balance the client's own personal needs and the importance of reducing community disease transmission," it said.

Team members monitor health conditions of clients and elevate the level of care when required, the statement said.

Saskatoon police Deputy Chief Mitch Yuzdepski said the service has been working in close collaboration with the Saskatchewan Health Authority since the beginning of the pandemic, and that collaboration now includes transferring people to the secure facility in North Battleford. 

"Our members are probably just as anxious as many of the public would be in having direct contact with a COVID-positive person, but they take the proper steps to protect themselves," he said, adding officers are equipped with the proper personal protective equipment as they work through the transfer. 

Mitch Yuzdepski, deputy chief with the Saskatoon Police Service, says transports from Saskatoon to the secure facility in North Battleford tie up some police resources, but he notes it's an essential part of the pandemic response. (Morgan Modjeski/CBC )

Yuzdepski says two people have recently been brought to the North Battleford facility by Saskatoon police officers.

He says each trip could tie up resources for six hours or more, as there are numerous steps involved in the process, including a deep clean of the transport vehicle.

While the SPS has not been compensated by the provincial government for the transports, the service is an essential part of the overall pandemic response, he says.

"We're committed to assisting the Saskatchewan Health Authority to do our part to control the spread of this virus," he said. "We hear stories every day about how it's overwhelming the health-care system and we appreciate the fact that we have a role to play in order to support them."

More than 1,000 have used isolation hotels

The government of Saskatchewan has been housing hundreds of people in isolation centres since the beginning of the pandemic.

According to Saskatchewan's Ministry of Social Services, between April 7 and the end of September, 390 people were isolated for 14-day stints in five hotels in Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert, North Battleford and La Ronge.

As of Nov. 30, that number had climbed significantly. A total of 1,046 people have now been supported in COVID-19 isolation hotels, according to Chad Ryan, the executive director of program support for the  Ministry of Social Services.

Travis Caisse has a home in Saskatoon, but after a positive test, he chose to isolate at one of the hotels to protect others in his home, including seniors. He's been isolating for about 10 days.

Travis Caisse has been isolating at a Saskatoon hotel for more than 10 days. While he has a home in Saskatoon, he didn't want to put anyone else in his household at risk after he tested positive for COVID-19. (Submitted by Travis Caisse)

"The main thing is that I'm recovering," he said. "That's basically what I wanted to do, instead of getting other people infected with COVID."

Caisse says his COVID-19 symptoms were mild, consisting of fatigue, a cough and sore chest, but he was worried those in his household may be subjected to something more serious.

"They're more at risk than anyone else," he said. "This COVID hits the elderly way harder." 

Fines increased

On Thursday, the government of Saskatchewan introduced harsher fines for those violating the province's public health orders. 

While police will issue tickets for minor infractions, fines for more serious offences jumped from $2,000 to $7,500 for individuals, with fines for companies climbing from $10,000 to $100,000, according to a Ministry of Justice news release. 

The legislation behind the increased fines will "confirm and clarify protections for individuals and organizations from litigation based on COVID-19 transmission, if there has been good-faith compliance with emergency orders and other applicable laws," the statement said.

However, it notes where there is "gross negligence, liability protection will not apply." 

"This act will honour the tremendous efforts of individuals, organizations and businesses that are working on the frontline, while complying with public health rules and requirements," said Justice Minister Gordon Wyant. 

Yuzdepski said his message to the public about following instructions from the health authority is a simple one.

"Please do your part, so we can do our part," he said. 

As of Thursday afternoon, there were 4,682 active cases of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan, 6,466 recoveries and 75 deaths.