COVID-19 in Sask: No new cases in far north, 25 recoveries

Officials have been tracking a downward trend of cases in the far north region, especially in La Loche. Dr. Rim Zayed says it may be possible to contain the virus in the region by the end of May, but only if people continue to follow public health orders in place across the region. 

Outbreak ended at La Loche health centre, no outbreak at Pasqua Hospital: SHA

The outbreak at the La Loche Health Centre has been declared over by the Saskatchewan Health Authority. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

There are no new cases of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan's far north region and an outbreak at a health centre in La Loche has been declared over.

Elsewhere, an investigation has ended and an outbreak won't be declared at the Pasqua Hospital in Regina.

New numbers, published on Saturday afternoon, said there was only one new case of COVID-19 in the province, in the Saskatoon region.

As of Saturday there have been 591 cases of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan. Of the total cases, 152 are considered active.

25 more people have recovered, bringing the provincial recovery total to 433 since the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the province earlier this year.

According to the province, eight people are in hospital; five are receiving inpatient care and three patients are in intensive care.

Investigation at Pasqua Hospital ends, no outbreak

The health authority said in Saturday's provincial update that it had concluded a COVID-19 case at the Pasqua Hospital did not constitute a hospital outbreak.

The Health Authority said the case was community-acquired and, so far, all staff and contact test results are negative. 

"Appropriate precautions continue within the Pasqua Hospital, as health care staff work diligently to care for Saskatchewan residents while helping to stop the spread of COVID-19," the province said. 

Moe commends Northern communities

Scott Moe, premier of Saskatchewan, speaks at a COVID-19 news update at the Legislative Building in Regina on March 18, 2020. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press)

On Thursday, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said the situation in Northwest Saskatchewan is starting to stabilize. In his daily update on COVID-19 cases, Moe thanked all residents of the province for their hard work, taking time to point out the people and leadership of La Loche specifically. 

"A special thanks to all of those individuals who are working together in La Loche and many other northern communities to control the spread of COVID-19," Moe said.

 Health centre outbreak over

The news came just days before government declared the outbreak at long-term care in the La Loche Health Centre over.

It has been 28 days since a new case of COVID-19 was recorded at the health centre in the northern Saskatchewan village and as a result Dr. Rim Zayed, the SHA's Northern Medical Health Officer, has declared the outbreak at the facility over.

She's been on the frontline of the pandemic in the province's north since the first cases were recorded.

Dr. Zayed said the SHA has been doing a lot of work in the community: actively seeking out cases, doing door-to-door testing and working with community leaders to ensure adequate support and resources are in place. 

"The collaboration and partnership is critical and essential," she said. "It is very critical to get to this point and I hope we are seeing a real trend that will not really bounce back." 

The cases of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan as of May 16 can be seen outlined on this map from the Government of Saskatchewan. Provincial leaders say the caseload in Saskatchewan's far north appears to be stabilizing. (Government of Saskatchewan/Supplied)

She said for the last week, officials have been tracking a downward trend of cases in the region, especially in La Loche. Dr. Zayed says it may be possible to contain the virus in the region by the end of May, but only if people continue to follow public health orders.

This includes washing hands regularly, staying at home when sick, enhanced cleaning of "multi-touch" surfaces and observing proper physical distancing practices. 

Dr. Zayed said the declining case count can be attributed to a number of factors, but noted travel restrictions in the north, additional isolation measures and the suspension of liquor sales in La Loche were important steps taken by officials. 

"The most important was taking the appropriate measures at the appropriate time and being consistent about it," she said. 

Dr. Zayed said Saskatchewan's strict infection control practices in long-term care — including having staff designated to one facility, daily monitoring of staff and patients, restricting visitors and enhanced cleaning — brought the outbreak at the centre to an end. 

"All of these measures together were very important," she said.

'We're not letting up'

So far, the province has responded to at least five outbreaks in Saskatchewan.

Outbreaks at the Meadow Lake Hospital, the Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert and in La Loche are over, while outbreaks in the Northern Village of Beauval and the Lloydminster Hospital are still active.

Dr. Zayed said while the trend is showing positive signs, she said it's critical people continue to follow public health orders. 

It was a remark echoed by La Loche Mayor, Robert St. Pierre, who said while the slowing in cases does offer "a little bit of relief," leaders in the north will continue to combat COVID-19. 

La Loche mayor Robert St Pierre says his community is proud, hopeful, and desperately in need of support. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

"We're not letting up," he said, noting leaders are still meeting regularly with officials from all levels of government and workers on the frontline of the pandemic in the northern communities. 

"We're continuing those dialogues because we know that as soon as we let up, people will feel that ease and think we're OK again. We don't want that," said St. Pierre. "We want to make sure that we keep this up until we get to zero and maintain that." 

St.Pierre said aggressive testing and contact tracing in the community has helped the north slow the spread. The mayor himself said he just got tested for the virus on Friday, with SHA officials coming right to his door. 

"I know that they're doing what they needed to do and I think they got the response from community members during this unprecedented time."

The outbreak in Long-term care in La Loche resulted in two of Saskatchewan's six deaths due to COVID-19, as 83-year-old Joseph Pierre Sylvester, who was a resident at the home, died in North Battleford on April 26. 

Agnes McDonald, who was also a resident at the home and a well-known elder in the community, died days later at the age of 85.

Pandemic a 'wake-up call'

Raywat Deonandan, a global-health epidemiologist and an associate professor at the University of Ottawa, says the pandemic has highlighted shortfalls in Canada's healthcare infrastructure priorities. (Supplied by Raywat Deonandan)

Dr. Raywat Deonandan, a global-health epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa, said the downward trend has to be attributed to the measures in place in the north, but notes the pandemic on a whole should be a "wake-up call" for governments at all levels. 

"This pandemic has revealed a lot of the schisms in our society and some of the problems in how we prioritize some of the ways we invest in health infrastructure," he said.

"What we've learned from this is that we need to invest more time, resources and human power in making our First Nations communities healthier and stronger. No question."

Province encouraged but precautions still critical

A statement from the Premier's office on Saturday noted the government is encouraged by the stabilization.

"This is in large part due to the vigilance of the residents and leadership of community leaders in the Northwest, working closely with health care workers, public safety officers and community volunteers to control the spread of COVID-19," the statement explained.

"It also demonstrates the importance of respecting the public health recommendations and restrictions put in place by Dr. Shahab when outbreaks occur." 

The statement said while numbers in recent days are "very encouraging" it's critical residents in the northwest, and across the province, remain vigilant in their pandemic precautions and preparedness. 

As of Saturday afternoon, Saskatchewan has conducted a total of 40,097 COVID-19 tests.

With files from Morgan Modjeski and Bryan Eneas