Sask. health says it has contained province's 1st presumptive positive COVID-19 case

The man is in his 60s and had recently traveled to Egypt. He was tested in Saskatoon.

'The resident is in their 60s with recent travel to Egypt,' health ministry says

Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical officer, held a news conference to address the COVID-19 situation Thursday afternoon. (CBC)

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Saskatchewan has recorded its first presumptive positive case of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

"The resident is in their 60s with recent travel to Egypt," the health ministry said in a statement Thursday morning.

The patient was tested Monday in Saskatoon after experiencing symptoms and is well enough to self-isolate at home, the ministry said. 

Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical officer, held a news conference to address the COVID-19 situation Thursday morning.

Shahab said the presumptive positive patient, a man, has had little contact with people since coming back from Egypt, besides a person he lives with. The patient is self-isolating comfortably at home and the person he lives with is also being monitored by public health officials. 

"Like many travellers, they were very aware of the need to self-isolate," Shahab said. "We are confident in this case it has been contained."

Shahab said 285 Saskatchewan residents have now been tested for the virus, up from the 204 reported by the province on Wednesday. Twenty-two test results are pending. 

Shahab also addressed long wait times of up to 20 minutes on the Saskatchewan 811 health line.

He encouraged people to keep trying the line, but he also said people should not call the line with general questions about the virus.

"It's not a good use of the health line to answer general questions," he said. 

Instead, Shahab encouraged people to seek that information on the province's coronavirus web page, which was updated with several guides on Thursday, including tips on self-isolation and self-monitoring.

Health Minister Jim Reiter said he's ordered an action plan, due Friday morning, on how to improve the clogged 811 Health line.

"They're going need to expand services," he said.

Health Minister Jim Reiter said he's ordered an action plan, due Friday morning on how to improve the clogged 811 Health line. (CBC)

All travellers urged to monitor symptoms

The preliminary test result for the presumptive positive patient came from the Roy Romanow Provincial Lab in Regina. 

A second test to confirm the diagnosis will be conducted at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. That test will take two to three days to complete. 

The ministry said public health officials are in regular contact with the patient.

"The province's first case is linked to travel from a country where local transmission of COVID-19 has been reported," Shahab said. "This supports the expanded testing criteria of symptomatic travelers to better prepare Saskatchewan's response to the COVID-19 event. All travelers need to monitor their symptoms for two weeks upon return home."

Public health officials are getting in touch with the patient's close contacts.

Anyone not contacted by public health officials is not at risk of transmission of COVID-19 from this patient, the release said.

"While the risk of acquiring COVID-19 in Saskatchewan continues to be low, increased testing will assist us in detecting cases as early as possible and delaying the spread of the illness as long as possible," Shahab said. 

"But it is critical that residents take precautions to protect themselves against respiratory illness. Wash your hands frequently, practice good cough and sneeze hygiene and stay home if you are sick."

Assessment sites

Shahab said that as the province sees more cases of travellers with symptoms who need testing, options are being considered for setting up assessment sites in larger cities where people can expect "assessment and testing in a very streamlined way." 

He declined to say where exactly those sites might be.

"That's confidential information both for the person and also for the care providers," Shahab said. 

Fire hall under precautionary quarantine

News of Saskatchewan's first presumptive positive case came just as the Saskatoon Fire Department announced that its Fire Station No. 4 is under a precautionary quarantine after firefighters came into contact Wednesday with someone who went on to be tested for the COVID-19 coronavirus.

"The Saskatoon Fire Department confirms that Fire Station No. 4 is under a precautionary quarantine," the fire department said in a news release Thursday morning.

Saskatoon's Fire Station No. 4 is under a precautionary quarantine after firefighters helped a patient who was going to be tested for COVID-19. They say service will not be affected. (Matthew Garand/CBC)

"At approximately 10:02 p.m. on March 11, 2020, one fire engine responded to a medical call for a patient experiencing shortness of breath. It became known [after midnight] that the patient was to be tested for COVID-19."

Fire Station No. 4 is located at 2106 Faithful Drive, in Saskatoon's North Industrial area.

Four staff members are under quarantine as a precautionary measure and will remain there until results of the COVID-19 test for the patient are available, the fire department said.

"They want to make sure it's safe for them to go home," fire Chief Morgan Hackl said of the isolated firefighters.

Hackl, speaking at a news conference at city hall Thursday, said the quarantine of firefighters has not delayed the department's response to other fire calls. 

'They want to make sure it’s safe for them to go home,' fire Chief Morgan Hackl said of the isolated firefighters. (CBC)

In terms of protecting workers against the virus, Hackl said the department is continuing to encourage firefighters to use personal protective equipment such as masks, Tyvek protective suits and gloves. More of the protective suits are on order, Hackl added. 

Operational steps, including the initial questioning of patients by dispatchers, are being reviewed, Hackl said. 

"Another process we're reviewing is: normally for staff safety we send in two staff members. And often it's a third. We are reviewing that process, as well to [trying] to minimize the amount of contact for our staff."

At the same news conference, Pamela Goulden-McLeod, the city's director of emergency management, was asked about closing down civic facilities.

"Some of those decisions will be made as we meet different levels of this event," she said. 

Saskatoon paramedics, dentists under quarantine

Troy Davies, a spokesperson for Medavie Health Services, confirmed two Medavie paramedics who transferred a patient on Wednesday are under quarantine. This was the same patient that prompted the quarantining of the fire hall in Saskatoon, he said. 

Davies said he did not have information about what it was in the patient's history that made coronavirus more likely. 

He said there is no "black and white" plan for how paramedics, who are likely to come into contact with patients, will handle future cases. 

Davies said Medavie, which has services in multiple provinces across Canada, is developing a plan. 

"Like everybody else we're taking our lead from not only the health authority and through, you know, leaders in our province," he said. "But also nationally we're working on our plan as to how to address this."

Dr. Parviz Yazdani, a dentist in Saskatoon, said a group of dental reps and others in Saskatoon are under quarantine after returning from a Vancouver conference.

Yazdani said they came into contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19.

Yazdani, who was not at the conference, knows two of the people under quarantine, but said there is an unknown number of others as well. He said dental offices are taking extra precautions, but it remains "business as usual" at the moment.

Saskatoon inmate being tested for virus

On Wednesday, Saskatchewan's Ministry of Justice confirmed the Saskatoon Correctional Centre is under an "infection protocol," with more than 150 inmates under quarantine, after one prisoner claimed to have come into contact with someone with COVID-19.

The inmate in question was among eight prisoners recently transported to the Saskatoon jail, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said. All told, 158 inmates — about a third of the jail's population — is under quarantine.  

On Thursday, the ministry confirmed the inmate who claimed the contact is being tested for COVID-19. The other 157 inmates are not being tested.

Asked if the quarantine will cease if the inmate's test comes back negative, the ministry said, "We will reassess the situation once the test results come back."

The inmate said he had been in contact with someone with COVID-19 in Alberta or B.C. 

The ministry said seven staff from court services and prosecutions have "self-isolated" as a precautionary measure. 

"We understand that some legal aid staff have self-isolated as well," the spokesperson said.

Schools take precautions to prevent exposure

Saskatoon Public Schools sent a letter to parents Wednesday confirming it has already taken precautionary measures to protect pupils from the virus.

"Focus is being given to sanitizing push-pull points and frequently touched surfaces, such as door handles, water fountain buttons, desks, countertops, sinks, and taps," according to the letter from two superintendents.

"As always, we ask that if your child is sick, please keep your child home from school."

Read the full letter below:

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Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools said it was meeting with Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) officials to discuss the board's response to the first presumptive case.

The school board said it has a pandemic plan, based on guidance from the SHA, that it can implement if it feels it is necessary.

No firm decisions had been made on how the schools will respond as of 11 a.m. CST. 

On Wednesday, Shahad had some advice for parents. 

"Currently the guidelines are that, if a child is sick — even if they haven't travelled — don't go to school until you're better," Shahab said. 

"If a child has travelled somewhere, anywhere in the world, and gets a fever, cough, stay at home, even if the child is in school and suddenly becomes sick.

"If someone's child has travelled, come back from Europe and develops a fever or cough in school, there's no need to panic. The child can sit in the room, with the door closed. Parents can be called. They can get the child to come home.

"If the child has to take a bus, keep a row empty front and behind. The child goes home, testing is done.

"These simple steps will minimize contacts."