Province recommending testing for those concerned about COVID-19 outbreak in Southwest

Provincial health officials are recommending heightened testing as part of their ongoing investigation into a COVID-19 outbreak in two Hutterite communes in the R.M. of Maple Creek.

Yesterday, the Saskatchewan Health Authority declared a COVID-19 outbreak in two Hutterit​e communities after two​ members of a rural household in the area initially tested positive for COVID-19 last week, with an additional 14 confirmed positive cases verified on June 17.

Dr. David Torr, the interim Senior Medical Health Officer, is leading the larger investigation and engaging with Hutterian Safety Council and the leadership of the two impacted colonies. The investigation involves several colonies both in Saskatchewan and Alberta because of the frequent travel back and forth between the colonies. All these measures are part of an ongoing investigation and additional details will be shared by the SHA if the situation warrants.

Saskatchewan Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab explained that after the initial two COVID-19 positive cases, during the ensuring case contact investigation they found additional contacts and testing was recommended for those individuals.

“The outbreak investigation results in more cases than you would find otherwise because we all know that if it’s up to individuals to seek testing, usually many people with minor symptoms don’t think of testing so you undercount actual cases. And that’s why we say even when numbers are low anywhere in Saskatchewan, don’t assume there’s no COVID transmission. You should continue to take your precautions all the time and that’s why we want to encourage testing even if you have mild symptoms or any concerns. And that would be my message for anyone in the Southwest,” Dr. Shahab said during a media availability on Thursday afternoon.

“We’ve seen in many situations the faster you move to do testing widely when there’s an outbreak, to do quick case contact follow up, the quicker you can get ahead of the outbreak and you can control it and end the outbreak.”

“But when there’s active case contact investigation, anyone who may have been in contact and has concerns, or anyone with mild symptoms that they may think are not even significant, is encouraged to get tested. So that really expands the case numbers very dramatically. And that’s fine, that’s the whole purpose of case contact investigation and outbreak investigation. The concern is not the increasing numbers. The real role is that you identify anyone who may have been contacted with cases in the last two weeks. And going forward you minimize further contacts to stop the generation of further cases. And that’s how you get ahead of the curve and control the outbreak.”

He had also pointed out that even though COVID numbers had been low in the Southern part of the province, it shows how easily the virus can move.

“This again is an opportunity for all of us to realize that although our numbers have been low, COVID-19 can pop up anywhere, but it can be managed by physical distancing if a case comes up. Even if there is an outbreak, though proper testing, case contact tracing, and follow up, we can get over it. We saw how it was controlled very successfully in very challenging situations in La Loche and Northwest Saskatchewan. We hope the same principles apply in the Southwest and we will be able to control this fairly quickly with the support of local leadership, as well as Public Health and SHA staff who are supporting clinical testing, and if required hospitalization. At this point we’re not aware of any hospitalization from this outbreak.”

Residents in the Maple Creek area have been advised to self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19, and to call HealthLine 811 or their community health centre for evaluation and advice if any of the following symptoms develop:
Muscle and/or jo​​int aches and pains
Sore throa​​t
Runny nose
Nasal congestion
Loss of appetite (difficulty feeding for children)
Loss of sense of taste or smell
Shortness of breath
Difficulty breathing

“For people living in the Southwest and the Maple Creek area, obviously if there’s any questions or concerns, testing should be easily accessible, and there’s information about symptoms and other cautions. And really, not just in the Maple Creek area, but everywhere, we need to continue practicing what we have been saying for the last little while…maintaining that two meter separation from people who are not in our virtual household, at work, when we are out and about shopping or when we are meeting each other socially.”

Dr. Shahab pointed out that unlike single cases which do not pose a significant risk to the wider population, this outbreak met the threshold of announcing the outbreak publicly.

“Whenever there’s an outbreak there is a need to be public about that, and there’s various reasons for that. In this case of course it’s not just one community it’s several communities that are involved in a part of the outbreak investigation that involves two provinces. There’s many reasons why it’s important to be transparent about the fact that this is an outbreak and an outbreak investigation. And that really informs people who live in the communities and informs people in the impacted geography which in this case is the RM. And of course it should also reassure people it’s a situation that’s being managed. But if people have any concerns that they may have been exposed for whatever reason, they can easily seek testing. And it’s important to seek testing if you have any concerns.”