COVID-19 in Sask: Province reports 4 new cases, bringing total to 20

The latest update came on the heels of Allan Woo, one of the province's most high-profile doctors, self-identifying as a COVID-19 case. He was recently at a curling event in Edmonton.

Latest update came only hours after a physician self-identified as a COVID-19 case

Dr. Saqib Shahab speaks to reporters during the latest COVID-19 press conference in Regina on Thursday. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

Click here for the latest: COVID-19 in Sask: Gov't plans daycare for kids of 'essential' health care workers

  • There are now 20 cases of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan: 12 presumptive, eight confirmed by a lab in Winnipeg. 
  • Allan Woo, the president of the Saskatchewan Medical Association, says he tested positive for COVID-19. Woo said he's self-isolating at home and monitoring his symptoms.
  • Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench proceedings will cease as of Friday
  • Public gatherings of more than 50 people are banned province-wide. 
  • The chief medical health officer counsels people to avoid groups of more than 5 people.
  • The Saskatchewan NDP wants all child-care centres closed. 

Saskatchewan reported four new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, bringing the total number of cases in the province to 20. There remains no evidence of community transmission, defined as cases not linked to travel or a previously related case.

The latest update from Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province's chief medical health officer, came only hours after Dr. Allan Woo, the president of the Saskatchewan Medical Association, became the first Saskatchewan resident to publicly self-identify as a COVID-19 case. 

Woo said he believed he became infected at a curling bonspiel that took place in Edmonton from March 11 to 14. The event usually attracts 50 to 60 physicians from Western Canada, Woo said.

Shahab confirmed Woo as one of the four new cases. 

One of the other new cases announced Thursday is a person who lives with a previously-reported case. Travel information for the other two new cases was not immediately provided. 

"Nineteen of [Saskatchewan's] 20 cases are well enough to self-isolate at home at present," the province said.

One patient is in hospital due to a pre-existing illness.

Shahab said he's aware of two situations where a person visited a health facility, unannounced, and then later tested positive. 

He said he did not have information on whether there has been secondary transmission in those locations.

Call for tighter measures

Regina Mayor Michael Fougere joined Shahab in urging people to avoid groups of more than five people.

Saskatchewan's top doctor has stressed the importance of stark social distancing in order to avoid an all-out assault on the province's hospital system.

New measures announced by the provincial government Wednesday to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus included a ban on public gatherings of more than 50 people, a strengthening of the earlier ban on groups of more than 250 people.

"If you have an essential service, you go to work and come home. We should all go and buy what we need and just that and come home. I think it is a time to hunker down," Shahab said at a news conference Wednesday.

Shahab went further than the measure announced only an hour before. 

"I'll tell you what I'm going to do. If I go into a meeting room and people aren't sitting one metre apart, I refuse to attend that meeting," he said.

"I don't want to go to a gathering with more than four or five people, actually."

Regina Mayor Michael Fougere says he's not concerned about the financial ramifications of COVID-19. "Public safety is number one," he said. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

Fougere questions open restaurants

Fougere, speaking at a news conference in Regina Thursday, said he believed the four-to-five-people guideline was more appropriate.

"Fifty people is too many in one place," he said.

Regina's city manager, Chris Holden, said 500 city employees can work from home using laptops, and that when he recently walked through city hall, it was "a ghost town — and that's a good thing."

Holden said Regina is "way ahead" of the provincial government, which announced that its work-from-home program phase-in would begin Monday.

Fougere said people should expect a case of community (non-travel-related) transmission today or very soon.

"That just ramps up the need for self-isolation," he said. 

Fougere also questioned the decision to keep restaurants open.

"Do we need to have restaurants and bars open? I'm concerned about community transmission that happens in those areas. I think we should ask a question, whether we should either ask the province do that or act on our own."

Bus service in Regina continues, despite low ridership, Fougere said.

"That is very much a moving target," he said. "We're concerned of course about people being close together."

Reporters kept their distance during a Thursday news conference with Regina Mayor Michael Fougere. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

Saskatoon official calls for stricter measures

Pamela Goulden-McLeod, the City of Saskatoon's director of emergency planning, called on the government to take more drastic steps Wednesday. 

"I'm imploring the province to go a step further and to ban all public gatherings in any location and with any numbers," she said. "The safety of our residents is the only consideration going forward."

Asked about the idea of banning all public gatherings on Thursday, Shahab said "it has to also come down to all of us being very aware of our own health and symptoms and really self-isolating ourselves and our children at the first sign of illness.

"That is actually the most important thing at this point."

The City of Saskatoon has closed all of its public facilities but Saskatoon Transit bus service remains in operation.

City councillors approved the move to waive fees for transit riders.

NDP on child care

The new measures Wednesday came as the province confirmed the number of COVID-19 cases had doubled to 16.

Ryan Meili, the leader of the Saskatchewan NDP party, said those new case numbers were known by the province on Tuesday night but were not made public until Wednesday, after the embargo on some 2020-2021 budget details was lifted.

"They chose to go ahead with the public announcement [about the budget], an unnecessary public announcement," Meili said. "It's not what I would have done. I certainly would like to see better communication and sharing of information."

Meili spoke during a virtual news conference from his Saskatoon office Thursday. He called on the Scott Moe government to shut down all child-care centres and make alternative plans for the care of children of essential workers, including health care workers.

He said doing otherwise would create "a situation of likelihood of greater transmission."

Saskatchewan NDP leader Ryan Meili called on the Scott Moe government to be more speedy with its release of information on COVID-19 cases. He spoke Thursday during virtual press conference hosted from his Saskatoon office. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

FSIN doesn't want death to prompt change

On Wednesday, the Saskatchewan government ordered some businesses, such as gyms and casinos to close, but restaurants can remain open for the moment and be allowed to sell offsale liquor.

Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) had previously called on the province to close all liquor stores and said he was disappointed with the province's decision to instead keep bars open (albeit with rules requiring customers to keep a distance of one metre from each other).  

"We honestly hope we don't lose anybody or anyone passes away due to this virus. But if it does and when it does, then people will start closing shop," Cameron said. 

On Wednesday, the FSIN declared its own state of emergency, saying many of its 73 member First Nations were ill-equipped to deal with the crisis. Some had an inadequate supply of swabs to test for the virus, Cameron said.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority has said the province is working with other provinces, as well as the federal government, to secure a supply of crucial items like swabs and ventilators at a time when every other country is doing the same.

"At this point, overall in Saskatchewan, we are OK," Shahab said of swabs Thursday. 

Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron says some First Nations families are struggling to get even basic supplies like toilet paper. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press)

Cameron said families are struggling to get some basic supplies. 

"There are families and households in [Saskatoon that] are struggling to find certain things: hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, toilet paper. Now, go a 12-hour drive north of Saskatoon, to Fond-du-lac and Black Lake and Hatchet Lake. We can only imagine the struggles and challenges just for them to get anything."

There are some positive developments, Cameron added. Fond-du-Lac has received funding for planes to fly in supplies to the community. 

"But there's much more to get done," he said.

Avoiding all-at-once pressure on hospitals

Shahab said he expects two to five per cent of Saskatchewan residents exposed to COVID-19 to require intensive care in hospital.

"But as long as all those pressures come slowly over eight to 12 months — the health system still needs to expand to surge capacity, maybe by 50 per cent — it can manage," he said.

Only one of 16 Saskatchewan COVID-19 cases is currently hospitalized, but that patient had a pre-existing illness. The remaining 15 are well-enough to self-isolate at home.

So far, more than 2,500 people in the province have been tested for the virus.



Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Saskatoon

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