COVID-19 in Sask: 6 more health care workers infected with virus, top doc says

Saskatchewan's chief medical health officers says those infected health care workers come in addition to the 11 care providers who were infected at an Edmonton curling bonspiel.

6 newly-reported cases come in addition to 11 infected workers at Edmonton curling bonspiel

Saqib Shahab, chief medical health officer, speaks at a COVID-19 news update. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press)

Click here for the latest: COVID-19 in Sask: Who gets a ventilator? In 'hypothetical' worst-case scenario, age might decide

  • Saskatchewan now has 206 cases of COVID-19, up by 13 from Wednesday.
  • In 10 cases, the source of exposure is unknown.
  • Four people are in hospital, including two in ICU.
  • Indigenous Services Canada confirmed two people on Saskatchewan First Nations reserves are infected.
  • The province's latest modelling on how many Saskatchewan residents might die from the virus will be released next week. 
  • Health care workers want the government to be more transparent with COVID-19 information.
  • Another First Nation is calling on the province to close down liquor stores.


Health officials' routine update on COVID-19 cases took a turn on Thursday.

Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, confirmed six health care workers have become infected with the virus, though it's not clear if they contracted the novel coronavirus in the workplace.

These cases come on top of the 11 Saskatchewan health care professionals who tested positive after attending an Edmonton curling bonspiel that became known as a COVID-19 hotspot, bringing the total number of known infected Saskatchewan health care workers to 17.

"We are aware of at least six instances where individuals may have been working in a health care setting but it's not clear where the exposure was," Shahab said. "In two [of those] cases, they were not involved in direct patient contact. So the exposure could have happened in a community setting or in a health care environment."

Shahab said he was also aware of instances where a patient having respiratory symptoms "wasn't brought up" and a primarily health care worker did not wear the proper personal protective equipment 

"I think that's an important thing we all have to remember now.... If anyone has respiratory symptoms they should call ahead before visiting a primary care practice. A lot of care is safely provided now through telephone and radio consults," Shahab said.

"If you do need to be assessed [in person], you should call ahead so that appropriate PPE can be used."

13 new cases in last day

Saskatchewan surpassed the 200-case mark Thursday as it reported 13 new positive COVID-19 tests in the province, bringing the total tally of cases to 206.

That total includes 36 people in the province have recovered from the virus. 

The number of people with no known source of exposure has increased since Wednesday to 10 from eight. 

Four people are in hospital, including two under intensive care. That number has fluctuated since the health system began seeing its more serious cases.

"So far we appear to be fairly stable," Shahab said of the overall COVID-19 picture in the province. 

Here's how the cases (as reported Thursday) now break down regionally.

(Duk Han Lee/CBC)

Update on modelling coming early next week

Moe's participation in the provincial news conference came shortly before he joined a call with other premiers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 

The group was expected to discuss modelling on the pandemic's potential infection rate and death toll across the country, as well as much-needed pandemic supplies for health workers and patients.

During a news conference Thursday, Moe said he has asked the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) to provide an update on Saskatchewan-specific modelling to the public and the media early next week.

He said he expects a wide range of scenarios to be contemplated.

Hundreds of ventilators on order

New figures suggest the Saskatchewan health authority has secured some additional ventilators but still has hundreds more on order to treat people in a potential surge of serious COVID-19 cases.

In critical cases, COVID-19 attacks the lungs and restricts breathing to the point where a patient needs a ventilator to stay alive.

Early last week, the health authority said it had 91 adult intensive care ventilators, 80 subacute ventilators and dozens of ventilators inside operating rooms across the province.

Ventilation devices, like this one seen in a hospital in southwesten France, are necessary to treat some of the sickest patients with COVID-19. (Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP via Getty Images)

In an update Wednesday, the health authority revised that figure as of March 25, saying it had 332 invasive ventilators (including ventilators used in critical care, sub-acute and anaesthetic environments) and 118 non-invasive ventilators.

Another 1,383 ventilators are on order — 862 invasive, 521 non-invasive  — at a time when Canada, like most other countries, has a limited supply.

In an early-draft worst-case-scenario planning document that leaked last week and is being revised, the health authority said that Saskatoon alone, at the peak of the pandemic, might need as many as 500 to 600 invasive and non-invasive ventilators — daily.

Who gets a ventilator?

Faced with spikes in critical cases, physicians in Italy, which has been very hard hit by the virus, have faced the reality of having to make life-and-death decisions about who gets a ventilator and who doesn't.

Health units around the world have had to consider various potential factors to decide that, including a patient's age, their chances of survival and even a random lottery.

While the Saskatchewan Health Authority's early-planning doc hinted at an "ethical framework for decision-making", no details were provided. 

In a more recent update, the health authority said it's developing several guides to help health care workers plan and make decisions during the pandemic.

"These guides are based on principles that...ensure that decisions are not unpredictable or arbitrary, and that values are applied consistently to patients needing care," according to a statement provided this week. 

On Wednesday, Scott Livingstone, the health authority's CEO, said the public's communal effort to flatten the virus' curve will lessen the chances of the health system becoming overburdened.

"It may not reduce, in fact, the overall number of cases, it just is going to spread them out over a longer period of time," Livingstone said.

Not rationing PPE for health workers

At the same news conference Wednesday, Dr. Susan Shaw, the health's authority's chief medical officer, was asked if personal protective equipment (PPE) for front-line health care workers (such as masks, gowns and gloves) is being rationed.

"No, we're not," Shaw said. "We're taking a lot of steps to make sure we understand what is the best use of our personal protective equipment, where it's most appropriately stocked, and how do we ensure that we continue to have the right amount of equipment to ensure our staff are safe."

Last week, Livingstone accused a small number of health care workers of stealing some pandemic supplies.

"There's lots of fear out there, there's fear in the public, there's fear of course in our health care workers. But if that PPE isn't available when people need it to properly care for COVID-19 patients, they're putting people's lives at risk," he said.

Barbara Cape, the president of the union local representing 11,000 health care workers in the province, said she too was concerned.

"If those supplies go missing, it is my members who are without supplies, who need them the most," Cape said.

Improvements to 811 health line

The Saskatchewan government gave an update Thursday on what it's done to improve the 811 health line, after many people complained they either could not get through or faced long wait times.

Originally, the line could only handle 32 calls at time. Now it can take more than 900 calls at a time, the province said, thanks in part to the addition of 250 staff. 

Since March 17, when the system was replaced following complaints, the line has received more than 50,000 calls — an average of more than 3,000 calls a day. 

Hospital parking fees waived

The health authority announced Wednesday it's waiving parking fees for all patients and employees in light of the pandemic.

The decision was made "to help su​​​pport our staff and physicians who remain focused on delivering care and services and to help ease the burden for our patients," according to a release.

The free parking also extends to people vising health care facilities for compassionate reasons. 

"Those may include immediate family during end-of-life care, family of patients prior to a major surgery or visitors aiding in clinical care (at the discretion of the patient's care provider)," the release said.

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

All-platform journalist for CBC Saskatoon

Story tips?

with files from Alicia Bridges and Amina Zafar