Saskatoon

Record-high 439 new COVID-19 cases announced in Sask. on Saturday

Of the new cases, 170 are in Saskatoon and 56 are in Regina.

Saskatchewan Union of Nurses says its 'horrified' by record high new cases

Premier Scott Moe and Saskatchewan Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab speak with reporters at a provincial COVID-19 briefing earlier this year. On Saturday, Scott Moe said a record high in new cases is 'very concerning.' (Adam Hunter/CBC)

Saskatchewan has set a new record for the number of COVID-19 cases announced in a single day, with 439 new cases reported Saturday.

The sharp jump in cases also brought the province past the 6,000 mark for total cases reported since the start of the pandemic, with 6,237 to date.

The large increase was partially due a record-high number of tests processed Friday —  4,580 — and because weather-related and logistical delays meant there was a backlog in the reporting of some cases, provincial officials said in Saturday's update.

With 170 new cases, the Saskatoon region saw the highest jump on Saturday, followed by Regina and the northwest zone, both of which reported 56 new cases. The north central zone has 43 new cases, and the remaining 114 cases are spread throughout the province.

On Saturday, the province announced a total of 439 new active COVID-19 cases. This map details where the active cases in the province are currently located. (Government of Saskatchewan )

The number of active cases in the province is now 2,537 — a 400 per cent jump from a month ago, when there were 509 active cases in Saskatchewan.

Hospitalizations also hit a record high Saturday, jumping to 93 from 85 on Friday. 

Of those in hospital, 72 are receiving in-patient care while 21 are receiving intensive care. 

The number of people who have died after being diagnosed with COVID-19 remains at 33. 

'Will consider further measures': Moe

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe issued a statement concerning Saturday's numbers, which he called "very concerning." 

"Our seven-day average for new cases is now 203, which is the highest it has ever been," said Moe.

"While it's too soon for the new measures implemented last week to have made an impact, we are continuing to evaluate the situation closely and will consider further measures. Our government is working closely with [Chief Medical Health Officer] Dr. [Saqib] Shahab and public health officials and will have more to say early next week," the premier said.

"For now, let's all do our part to keep ourselves and those around us safe."

That includes reducing the number of contacts you have, cutting activity outside the home, wearing a mask if you do go out, practising physical distancing, and handwashing.

"We can keep ourselves and those around us safe and reduce the spread of COVID-19 by taking these steps," said Moe.

Saskatchewan's previous record for new active cases in a single day was recorded on Nov. 14, when 308 cases were reported.

Nurses union 'horrified'

Tracy Zambory, president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses, says the increase in cases is more than unsettling for those battling COVID-19 on the front line.

"We are horrified, scared, disappointed and frustrated," said Zambory, adding the union has been calling for tougher measures for weeks.

"We cannot wait until we hit a higher number. We are reaching critical mass here."

Tracy Zambory, president of Saskatchewan Union of Nurses, said SUN is horrified by Saturday's record-breaking COVID-19 numbers. (Craig Edwards/CBC)

Nurses and other medical professionals are already "exhausted," Zambory said.

"They're pushing it as hard as they can every day, because that's what registered nurses do, that's what the front-line caregivers do. We are there for our patients."

Zambory said the union is calling on the province to take immediate steps to slow the spread of COVID-19, which could include stoppages where needed, noting there's much at risk if changes aren't made.

"The premier needs to take some decisive action and he needs to take it quick," she said. "Our numbers are at a record high and they're only going to continue to grow." 

Without action in the next three weeks, Saskatchewan could see itself in a situation worse than neighbouring Manitoba, which is now under strict COVID-19 restrictions after seeing the worst per capita rate of COVID-19 cases among Canadian provinces.

"What's at stake is people's lives," she said. "We have to stop making this a competition between the economy and people's lives. We can work together to make sure both stay intact."

Doctors already calling for tighter restrictions

Dr. Anne Huang, a former deputy medical health officer with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, says the record high signals that it's time for the province to consider restrictions on non-essential businesses. 

With an effective reproductive rate — a reference to the number of people each COVID-positive person infects — of roughly 3.3, she expects case counts will continue to climb if action isn't taken.

"Every single new case has the potential to infect on average three to four people," she said. 

Dr. Huang noted that Saskatchewan has averaged more than 150 new daily COVID-19 cases for more than a week, indicating previous health restrictions did not work, and she's concerned the recent restrictions put in place don't go far enough either.

Dr. Anne Huang, former Saskatchewan deputy medical health officer, says the province should be considering closing down non-essential businesses, especially high-risk venues like indoor gyms. (Don Somers/CBC)

"The horses are already out of the barn," she said. "So unless we drastically reduce the social interactions now, I expect the rising number to continue for the next two or three weeks at least."

One of her biggest concerns is that Saskatchewan will be unable to get cases back down to levels the government said were the "best-case" scenario — roughly 76 new cases daily, as outlined in recent modelling.

She says the province should consider implementing restrictions similar to those in place in the spring, noting it's especially important to consider restrictions on high-risk activities, like indoor gym or other athletic activities. 

"They definitely need to be closed down for the next three to four weeks to curb the rising trend, and if we don't do it now, we are tracking the curve of what's happening in Manitoba very closely." 

Dr. Huang is just one of hundreds of doctors in the province calling for tighter restrictions. Earlier this week, the Opposition NDP recommended a three-week "circuit breaker" to bring numbers down.

The proposal was rejected by Health Minister Paul Merriman. On Saturday, calling into The Roy Green Show on Global News, Premier Moe said that approach would be "disastrous" to small businesses.

"That's why we are looking at every other lever that we have … available to us to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and try to minimize, in every way that we can, the impact on our small businesses," said Moe. 

The restaurant and hospitality industries have done a "tremendous job" in revamping their businesses to ensure staff and clients are kept safe, he said, and his government will continue to support them. 

"We're going to do everything we can to ensure that they're going to be able to make it through this without a circuit breaker, without a shutdown or without a lockdown."

As of Saturday afternoon, Saskatchewan was dealing with a total of 97 outbreaks, five of which were declared on Friday, including at the Santa Maria long-term care home, the Highland Curling Club and Avena Foods in Regina, and the Lutheran Sunset Home and the orthopedics-trauma unit at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon.

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