5 new insights into COVID-19's spread in Saskatchewan

Many cases remain of unknown origin, provincial health officials say.

Many cases remain of unknown origin, provincial health officials say

Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab speaks during an update on COVID-19 at the Legislative Building in Regina. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press)

Saskatchewan health officials released their latest in-depth accounting of the COVID-19 pandemic's effect on the province on Thursday.

Here are five key takeaways. 

The source of many infections remains a mystery

Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, said interprovincial travel continues to account for "a lot of our cases," as an example of a source of transmission.

But the province remains in the dark about the cause of many other people's infections.

In a table cataloguing exposure types from the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 to Jan. 10, 2021, the largest number of cases, 4,696, were "unknown/not identified," followed by 4,311 pending, or unclassified, cases. 

Among known categories, household exposure and heath-care workers were the most prevalent exposure types.

(Government of Saskatchewan)

"Even though we are not supposed to be meeting between households, we continue to see transmission when people have gotten together over the holidays," Shahab said. 

1 in 5 hospitalized people end up in ICU

The Ministry of Heath's daily updates on COVID-19 in Saskatchewan only detail how many people are in hospital or under intensive care on that given day.

Thursday's update provided a window into total hospitalizations to date.

(Government of Saskatchewan)

Since the beginning of the pandemic in March, 750 people with COVID-19 have wound up in the hospital. Out of those, 164, or 22 per cent, have required intensive care.

"This has not been a minor event by any stretch of the imagination," Shahab said. "We have had significant hospitalizations in hospital, in ICU and deaths."

Active case rates highest in far north

Saskatchewan's far north region was among the first to receive shipments of the Moderna vaccine. Numbers released Thursday provided insight into why that was.

The far northwest, far north central and far northeast zones experienced dramatically higher daily active case rates and test positivity rates in early January, compared to other parts of the province. 

The far northeast zone — which includes Air Ronge and eight other northern communities — had a daily active case rate of 1,685 per 100,000 people from Jan. 5 to Jan. 11.

(Government of Saskatchewan)

Shahab cautioned that "with smaller populations, [case rates] can fluctuate quite a bit."

Number of close contacts going down

Shahab noted one positive trend on Thursday: infected people are coming into contact with fewer people than before.

The mean number of close contacts per infected person was 4.4 from Dec. 21 to Jan. 3., compared to eight last November, Shahab said. 

"This means that we're not having large gatherings in worship services [with more than 10 people]," he said. 

Vaccine efforts are going well in long-term care homes

Early this week, the Saskatchewan Health Authority said a small percentage of its workers were declining to take a COVID-19 vaccine, citing nervousness among some of those being offered shots ahead of the general public.

But Shahab said uptake among long-term care residents — another group singled out for priority vaccination — has been "extremely high."

"It puts more pressure on the supply," Shahab said. "But that's what we want to see. We want to see high uptake."

The province is not releasing a full list of when specific nursing homes are scheduled to receive vaccines.

Extendicare, the private operator of the Parkside nursing home in Regina where 43 residents have died during an outbreak, said residents and staff would start getting vaccinated on Friday.

The company reported no active cases of the virus the day before.

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Saskatoon

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