Saskatchewan reducing gathering sizes in private residences

A jump in COVID-19 cases across Saskatchewan has prompted a Public Health order to reduce gatherings in private residences to a maximum of 15 people effective on Friday, October 16.

The reduction from the previous maximum allowing gathering size of 30 people comes in response to a six-day total of 187 new cases which occurred from October 9 to 14.

“We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of cases in the province,” Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Health Officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab said during a COVID-19 update on Tuesday, October 13. “While community transmission has been relatively low in Saskatchewan, we are seeing how quickly and easily this can change.”

Saskatchewan posted 22 new cases on Friday, 34 cases on Saturday, 24 on Saturday, and on top of those 80 weekend cases there were 48 announced on Monday, 34 more yesterday, and today’s 25 new cases.

Dr. Shahab noted that with gatherings carrying an increased risk as more events are moving indoors, he cautioned that sources of transmission are also changing.

“Cases with contact with a known case or mass gathering are increasing, from 53 per cent in the first week of October to 70 per cent this past week,” he said during a media event on Tuesday. “Public Health contact investigations are also having a harder time confirming the source of transmission because of the larger numbers of contacts that people are having.”

Statistically, COVID is being spread in all parts of the province as opposed to community specific outbreaks.

“This is why it’s essential that all residents must increase their vigilance and adhere to Public Health orders and guidelines in all settings.”

“We will be amending the Public Health order effective Friday to reduce the number of people who may attend private gatherings in private households to a maximum of 15. This will not, at the current time, impact restaurants, licensed establishments and banquet halls, weddings, funerals or religious gatherings which are required to follow seating and physical distancing guidelines as described in the Re-Open plan.”

He also recommended limiting your extended household, to just two or three other households or two to three close friends.

“Whenever outside your home, when potentially having contact with anyone who is not a household member or a member of your extended household, please wear a mask.”

Dr. Shahab is also making stronger recommendations to wear a mask while out in public.

“Community transmission means our provincial risk warrants mask use in public places, especially where you cannot maintain physical distancing reliably.”

“Further reducing gatherings is an additional step we can take right now. Along with masking, this can help us keep our case numbers low. These are small steps that all of us can and should take to help ensure that our businesses remain open, our schools continue, and other activities that promote health and wellness continue.”

Dr. Shahab shared that there are two concerning trends in Saskatchewan’s positive COVID test numbers.

“We are seeing, unfortunately, mass transmission events and that can have significant implications,” pointing out that an event with 10 to 15 cases can generate 300 to 400 contacts and an additional 15 to 20 additional cases.”

“But we’re also also seeing a consistent increase in person to person transmission no linked to a large event but linked to those small intimate gatherings we have all the time. That’s why we have to address both. We obviously need to be very cautious about any gathering, but also in our day to day behaviours we need to re-establish what we’ve been doing so well.”

He reiterated that people should no longer risk showing up sick to work or special events.

“We just need to pay more attention to how we’re feeling, staying home. Employers need to accommodate us, and they’ve been doing a great job so far. But it is a year where we will all have disruptions where we’re not feeling 100 per cent and shouldn’t go to work. And employers need to accommodate that. The same with school children and staff – they need to stay home when they’re unwell. I’ve said in the past that this school year children will miss many weeks because they had a cough or cold and had to stay home until they were better or got tested. So it is going to be a different year in that sense.”

And while the upcoming change to the Public Health order does not extend further than private residences, he cautions that people should be more diligent in protecting against COVID-19.

“Obviously when you’re out and about, going to a restaurant or bar, follow the guidelines. It may sound counter intuitive, going to a bar or restaurant with a mask on, but keep a mask on while you’re chatting. Take it off to have your drink or your meal. Put it on if you want to linger for a bit. All it does is that’s an additional layer that is source section – it prevents you spraying droplets and viruses all over the place. So every little bit counts and that’s what we want to focus on.”

“I think at the end of the day, at this point it’s all of our responsibility to wear a mask in a public space. Obviously if stronger measures are required they will be considered.”