Sask. town executes tailored pandemic plan to get ahead of COVID-19

Locals in Gravelbourg, Sask., worked fast to get ahead of COVID-19.

Municipalities encouraged to act as if COVID-19 is already present

Dr. Intheran Pillay said he and Dr. Larita Ramlakhan's efforts have been noticed beyond the community of Gravelbourg, as other Saskatchewan residents call for advice on COVID-19. (Submitted by Dr. Intheran Pillay)

Health professionals and community leaders came together in a small Saskatchewan town to get ahead of COVID-19 after watching devastation unfold in China and Italy. 

"One of the key lessons was that we really start too late, in terms of our endeavours to mitigate the havoc the pandemic brings about," Dr. Intheran Pillay, a Gravelbourg doctor and former head of the Saskatchewan Medical Association, said. 

Pillay said he, Dr. Larita Ramlakhan and others worried about a lack of resources and about Gravelbourg's high population of elderly people. He said the local hospital only has nine general medical inpatient care beds. It also has 50 long-term patient beds, which caused concern as COVID-19 led to deaths in other similar facilities around the world. 

They created a tailored pandemic plan, then declared an emergency on Saturday. Pillay said they're amplifying public health recommendations: meticulous hand washing, strict social distancing and isolating when necessary. 

"We feel that we're doing as much as what was recommended at a provincial level, but we have the ability to actually do a little bit more."

They asked all businesses and shops in the town to close their doors to all foot traffic and find a different way of operating. The town asked that no more than five staff members be in a building at one time.

Gas stations are operating with restrictions and the grocery store is only allowing people to pick up emailed, faxed or phoned orders one-person at a time.

Parents have been asked to keep kids home.  

The community and business co-operation has been heart-warming, said Joan Corneil, the town's chief administrative officer. She noted it's not easy running a busines in a small town, nor is it easy to access health care. 

"Small town Saskatchewan has had most of their hospitals closed down or just turned into wellness centres, so we don't have a lot of medical equipment," she said. "We don't even have a respirator and our chances of getting one are pretty well nil." 

She said some emergency measures might seem Draconian, but that the town wants to err on the side of caution. She said the town was contacted by the province, which overturned Regina's own restrictions, and indicated its regulations take precedence.

However, she said Gravelbourg is proceeding as is because they aren't contradicting the province. 

Case confusion in Kamsack

Meanwhile, some officials in other towns are struggling with communication. 

Kamsack mayor Nancy Brunt has been tracking the province's daily releases on COVID-19 numbers. 

Then on Tuesday, a post appeared on Facebook claiming, "two people in the Kamsack area are recovering at home after positive COVID-19 results."

The post wasn't from the Saskatchewan Health Authority. It is unclear whether the post is legitimate or not. Regardless, it rattled Brunt and made her question how the province is releasing information.

"It's a little frustrating because of course they're reporting every day, and they're saying this number of cases come out of Regina, Saskatoon, Humboldt," she said.

"All of a sudden we're reading a Facebook post that says there's two positives in the Kamsack area."

All small towns urged to act as if COVID-19 is there

The province's chief medical health officer is aware of these concerns. Dr. Saquib Shahab offered some straightforward advice.

"You have to act as if, anywhere in Saskatchewan, as if there's unknown community transmission. That's not a reason to panic. It's a reason to be very thoughtful about day-to-day activities."

These comments were echoed by Gordon Barnhart, president of the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (which now uses the name Municipalities of Saskatchewan), who says everyone should be following the public health guidelines.

"There could be someone in your community that has no signs or symptoms and does have the virus and could be spreading it," he said.

"Take those steps, whether there is someone in your community or not."

Pillay encouraged the same thing and asked people not to take COVID-19 lightly. 

"It's not just healthcare workers that save lives, it's each and everyone of you that can play a pivotal role in saving lives -- and what you do will define whether that happens to a smaller extent or a larger extent." 

with files from Janani Whitfield