Health authority monitoring new COVID-19 outbreak in Saskatoon

The outbreak, which took place at the Confederation Inn, has resulted in four people from the community of La Loche testing positive for COVID-19, but health officials say the cases in Saskatoon don’t appear to be linked to the northern cluster.

SHA says staff at the Confederation Inn where the outbreak is taking place have gone 'above and beyond'

The Confederation Inn in Saskatoon is the site of a new outbreak of COVID-19 that the province is monitoring closely. Four people staying at the hotel from La Loche have tested positive for the virus, but health officials don't believe it's linked to a separate outbreak in the north. (Morgan Modjeski/CBC)

Just a day after the Saskatchewan government released its plans to reopen the province, the Saskatchewan Health Authority confirmed it's tracking an outbreak of COVID-19 in Saskatoon.

The outbreak, which took place at the Confederation Inn, has resulted in four people from the community of La Loche testing positive for COVID-19. Health officials say the cases in Saskatoon don't appear to be linked to a separate outbreak happening in La Loche.

"The contact tracing is showing that some of these people, like the ones who haven't travelled recently, most likely got infected in Saskatoon," said Dr. Johnmark Opondo, with the Saskatchewan Health Authority. 

"The early cases may have travelled, so that's where we need to do more investigation, and that may lead us back to La Loche, but it's not to the same outbreak so far." 

Opondo did note however that the folks in Saskatoon who tested positive were counted in the La Loche numbers, because even though they spend much of their time in Saskatoon, their addresses are still rooted in the northern community. 

CBC has learned one of the Saskatoon patients is currently in intensive care. 

Opondo said the contact tracing has shown the four cases were linked to one person at the Confederation Inn and said the Saskatchewan Health Authority is confident they'll be able to contain the outbreak, as strict screening measures are in place at all Saskatchewan health facilities. 

"There's a lot of public health measures that are being applied," he said. "We've had other outbreaks in Saskatoon and we've managed them and closed them." 

Dr. Johnmark Opondo says the Saskatchewan Health Authority is currently tracking an outbreak in Saskatoon at the Confederation Inn. (Don Somers/CBC)

Brian Sawatzky, the hotel's owner, said he's been doing everything he can to ensure the hotel is safe. He said he's taken several precautionary measures to limit the risk of further transmission at the hotel, which has served people in Saskatoon for more than five decades. 

He said he's asked guests to leave, closed down public parts of the hotel and has basically emptied the facility for those who are in isolation. Sawatzky said his business has taken a hit as a result.

"My hotel is essentially empty," he said.

Sawatzky said support from the Saskatchewan Health Authority has been good, but he hasn't had any communication with the provincial government about compensation for the revenue he's lost since he closed his hotel after the positive tests.

"I'd like to have that conversation," he said. "But COVID has hurt everybody and I guess it's my turn to get hurt." 

However, Sawatzky said the hotel's beer store is still operational and open for business, as none of the guests entered the facility. 

Opondo said that hotel staff, including Sawatzky, have gone "above and beyond" in terms of environmental cleaning. He said the health authority has no concerns about the spread of the virus through the hotel's beer store. 

Officials say the people who recently tested positive in Saskatoon have been spending the majority of their time in the city, but some experts still have concerns about patients travelling to the city from La Loche, as travel between the two communities is extensive. 

Dr. Anne Huang, a former medical health officer with the provincial government, said the province should be taking extra care whenever they're transporting patients to or from La Loche as a result of the outbreak in the far north, where there are 28 cases, 27 of which are confirmed and 1 of which is presumptive. 

Dr. Anne Huang, a former deputy medical health officer in Saskatchewan, says the province should be taking extra care whenever they're transporting patients to or from La Loche. (CBC News)

"That travel to La Loche from Saskatoon, it's a long, long drive," she said. "That means there would be stops on the way for coffee or bathroom breaks or food, all that." 

Huang said this means people who have the virus, but maybe don't have symptoms, can be contaminating their environment as they travel. She said more precautions need to be taken, as those receiving medical treatment are still permitted to travel outside of the north.

"What we're seeing based on the data is that there's a growing outbreak on the upswing and it appears that it has potentially exposed individuals along the travel route from La Loche to Saskatoon as well," she said.

Indigenous Services Canada, which also houses clients receiving medical treatment at the hotel, said it's aware the hotel is closed and it has affected clients from the La Loche and Clear River Dene Nation supported by the Non-Insured Health Benefits program.

"As a result of this closure and as a precaution, ISC has relocated these clients to an alternate hotel in Saskatoon," the statement explained. "ISC can confirm that those relocated are healthy, asymptomatic and have not been in close contact with the individual who was ill at the Confederation Inn." 

For Sawatzky, he said it's his understanding that the Saskatchewan Health Authority will be moving the patients out of the hotel soon at which time he plans to reopen to the public and his customers. 

"When they leave, I'll find out what the protocol is for cleaning the place up properly and that'll be my job for [Saturday] and maybe Sunday and we'll get the place properly cleaned up."