COVID-19 in Sask: Cases in Saskatchewan jump to 52 as eight new cases reported

The doctor says he and his family have been subject to attacks from people online since he made the information public.

33 cases are confirmed and 19 cases are presumptive

The Canadian COVID-19 Math Modelling Task Force is working to assess the transmission risk and project outbreak trajectories of the virus. (NIAID-RML/The Associated Press/The Canadian Press)

Click here for the latest: COVID-19 in Sask: Shutdown ramps up as businesses enter no-contact phase

The province of Saskatchewan has eight new confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The total in the province is currently up to 52 reported cases, with 33 confirmed cases and 19 presumptive, and the majority of cases, roughly 62 per cent, being listed in men, compared to 38 per cent in women.

All of the cases are 20 years old or older, with the exception of one case in the late teens. 

"At this time, the Public Health Agency of Canada has assessed the public health risk associated with COVID-19 as low for the general population, but this could change quickly," said Sunday's provincial update. "There is an increased risk of more severe outcomes for Canadians 65 and over, and those with compromised immune systems or underlying medical conditions."

To date, the province has conducted 4,536 tests for COVID-19. 

Regina General Hospital staff member self-isolating

Staff in certain units at Regina General Hospital have been warned to self-monitor for symptoms related to COVID-19.

CBC obtained a photo of a note addressed to staff that reads: "Attention! All staff that worked on March 20, 2020 and had direct contact with physicians on nursing units 3E, 5A, 5E and 6F will be required to self-monitor for symptoms related to COVID-19."

The Saskatchewan Health Authority said in a statement that the note was put up because a staff member had come in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

"This staff member is not showing symptoms (and is self-isolating as per public health) and while the poster was not suggested by public health as part of the contact investigation, it was the proper message as we work hard to ensure all health care workers are following current provincial guidelines," the SHA statement said.

The note said staff who have symptoms should not come into work and should notify their manager, regardless of whether they worked on those units.

Rosthern doctor who tested positive saw 15 patients 

The Rosthern, Sask., doctor who tested positive for COVID-19 says he saw roughly 15 people after he came in contact with the virus.

On Saturday, Dr. Jess Melle posted on Facebook that he and his wife had contracted the virus after travelling to Alberta earlier in March. 

On Sunday, a day after news of their diagnosis went public, he detailed the number of patients he saw as a precautionary measure, in a post on his own Facebook page that was then shared to the official page of the Rosthern Medical Clinic. 

"I am only posting this because it is important information," Melle said in the Facebook post. "I saw about 15 people between Monday and Tuesday." 

Dr. Jess Melle has tested positive for COVID-19 and posted on Facebook that he saw roughly 15 patient since he contracted the virus. He said he and his family have been subjected to numerous attacks online. (Rosthern Medical Clinic)

In the post, Melle said the only reason he saw the patients was to "shield a pregnant colleague from possible contact," by taking a 14-hour overnight on-call shift. 

"I adhered to what I was told was safe by the health authority," he said in the post. "None of the people that I saw qualify as 'close contact,' meaning 15 or more minutes less than six feet away. All of my contacts will be reached by public health." 

He also said that he and his family have been receiving online attack messages since he made the information known. 

"Fear mongering and misinformation is not beneficial," he said. "My family is decimated and in shambles over this internet bullying. It seems lost on everyone that we are recovering from an illness that has all of you terrified it may kill you." 

"Well we HAVE IT! Please stop attacking us," he said.

SHA mum on whether hospital closure connected 

On Mar. 20, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) issued a release saying Rosthern Hospital's emergency and lab services were closed due to "staff shortages." It's unclear whether the closure is connected to Melle's diagnosis.

The release then directed people to seek emergency services at hospitals in Saskatoon or the Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert.

CBC Saskatoon reached out to the SHA on Saturday to find out if the closure at the hospital is connected to Melle's diagnosis. In a written statement, SHA said it cannot speak about specific cases, but anyone who has been in contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19 will be notified. 

"In the case of a staff member, or anyone who tests positive for COVID-19, a contact investigation immediately follows where public health would reach out to anyone who may be linked to a positive case and provide them with information on testing and self-isolation," said the SHA statement. 

The SHA also noted it has set up a human resources group that is preparing contingencies to ensure continuous and uninterrupted services.

18 new cases in province on Saturday 

The number of cases of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan jumped from 26 to 44 overnight on Saturday: 25 confirmed and 19 presumptive. That number includes 18 new cases: 17 confirmed and one presumptive. 

Public health officials are investigating any people have had contact with those who tested positive.

The Government of Saskatchewan's current case count has risen to 52 with eight new cases of COVID-19 being reported in the province. (Government of Saskatchewan)

Out of the 44 cases detailed on Saturday, at least three cannot be connected to transmission via travel or attendance at a large gathering. Dr. Shahab said if a connection cannot be confirmed in the next two or three days, that will mean there is community transmission.

"As of today, we don't have that information, but in two or three days, as the case numbers rise and we are unable to confirm the exposure, we will definitely have to state that there is evidence of community transmission."

Rosthern mayor calls for calm

In light of the attacks in social media, the town's top elected official is calling for residents to think hard before going on the online offensive. 

"People need to be calm," said Rosthern Mayor Dennis Helmuth.

"Social media can be a helpful tool, but it can also be very destructive, and I think we're seeing it at its best and its worst," he said. "We need to just step back from the traumatic situation we're in and ask ourselves, 'What do we want to be going forward, and how can we help each other?'" 

While the local government doesn't have the legal authority to implement a quarantine in the town, town officials have been asking residents to stay home unless it's absolutely essential to go out. 

"Even without the situation that we're now in, this is the message to all of us," he said. 

Helmuth said the town's administration is working on the next steps for the community. "We can always do more, but I think we're responding under the circumstances as well as we can." 

When it comes to whether medical services are adequate in the community, that is a question for the Saskatchewan Health Authority to address, he said. 

"I know they have put in contingencies to bring in a couple of extra physicians over the next few days and few weeks," he said. "Is it enough? Probably not. Is it the best we can do? I think it is."

Second health facility experiencing service restrictions

Physician services at the Kerrobert and District Health Centre are also suspended until 10 p.m. on Mar. 28. 

However, visitors to the centre's emergency services will still be assessed by a registered nurse, with emergency lab and x-ray services available, said a Mar. 21 public service announcement. 

Emergency services are still available at Kindersley and District Health Centre, alongside the Unity and District Health Centre.

SGI offices closed to the public

SGI is closing its issuing offices and claims offices to the public, except by appointment for transactions that have to be done in person, like issuing new licences and registrations.

Appointments in person will be "mindful of social distancing guidance," a statement on the SGI website said.

Claims and appraisals are not available. Scheduled road tests have been suspended and no new road tests will be scheduled but written tests can be done by appointment.

The motor licence issuer also says it will "find solutions" for customers under financial strain as a result of the pandemic.

SGI said in the statement that most of its employees are now working from home.