Three more weeks. That’s the length of the most recent extension of public health orders in Saskatchewan meant to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Premier Scott Moe made the announcement from the Legislature in Regina on Jan. 26 with chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab.
The announcement came on a day when Saskatchewan posted yet another record for COVID-19 related deaths, 14, but has seen a slow drop in new case counts. There are now 2,665 cases are considered active, and on that day, 607 recoveries were reported.
“The number of new cases in Saskatchewan continues to gradually decline,” Moe said. “Today we are reporting 232 new cases, and our seven-day average for new cases is now 254. This is down about 20 per cent from its peak of 321 on Jan. 12. Our active cases are now down to 2,665, the lowest level since Nov. 21, and down over 40 per cent from a peak of 4,763 on Dec. 7.
“This gradual decline means that our current public health orders and restrictions are working, but we need to leave them in place a little longer. Therefore, all the current public health orders are being extended for three weeks until Feb. 19.”
“These measures are working, when we follow them, as the vast majority of Saskatchewan people and businesses are doing. There have been a small number of mainly bars and restaurants who may not have been following those putting their staff putting their customers and essentially putting their communities at risk. So, I have asked that we increase enforcement on those who choose to break the rules, and in recent days there has been three significant tickets.”
Moe also said that two bars in Saskatoon and one in Regina had been issued $14,000 fines.
He held out the hope that three weeks from now, Saskatchewan may be able to look at reducing the number of restrictions in place.
He pointed out that the province has made a lot of progress in vaccinations. To date, 34,080 doses have been delivered, and those administering it are quite literally getting the most out of every bottle, getting 104 per cent of expected dosages. Moe said, “But we continue to be limited by the slow pace of vaccine deliveries, from to and from the federal government. Saskatchewan now has the highest percentage of vaccines administered, and we have the second-highest per capita rate of vaccinations completed among any of the provinces.
“Unfortunately, today we are virtually out of vaccines. And with no new shipments coming this week, our vaccination program will be stalled for the next number of days.”
Next week, the province is expecting 12,000 additional doses, of which 5,850 will be Pfizer doses heading to Saskatoon, Regina, North Battleford, Yorkton and Swift Current to allow continued vaccination of long-term care residents and staff, as well as those over 70. A further 6,500 Moderna doses will be going to the far northeast, far northwest, and northeast regions of the province for a second doses. In the central-west region, first shots will be administered, Moe said.
The province will continue to push the federal government for more vaccines, and to also look at approving additional types of vaccines for use. He referenced the vaccines that AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson have been working on.
Shahab said, “I think it’s really important that we are seeing a steady decline in our case numbers; all the indicators are moving in the right direction is slow and steady.”
Daily case numbers have come down from 24 per 100,000 population to 20 per 100,000. Test positivity is down under 10 per cent, and is doing so throughout the province.
When vaccination starts picking up in March and April, “then we hope to see significant impact on hospitalization and deaths,” he said. Until then, we really have to stay the course.
“The other thing is that, with our public health measures, some people say it’s too little, some people say it’s too much. But, you know, they try to strike a fine balance between minimizing cases, as long as the guidelines are followed, and letting people work, (and) enjoy other amenities as much as possible.”
He added, “But the downward trend does show, that if all of us abide by public health principles, it has a significant impact on our case numbers.”
On the same day, Manitoba implemented 14-day quarantines for nearly all travellers to that province. Asked about doing something similar for Saskatchewan, Shahab said it have been looked at, but found to be impractical, given our long borders, and people in border communities who work and shop across the border. But he did recommend minimizing travel.
Regarding variants of the COVID-19 virus, Shahab said sampling is done with relation to travel, and some sampling with age groups and geography as well. “I would not be surprised if we saw a variant in Saskatchewan, but again, what we’re doing, is exactly the same. We really have to follow all these public health measures.”
Asked about adverse reactions to the vaccines in Saskatchewan, Shahab said there have been around 10 to 15 allergic reactions, some tingling on the face, and one anaphylaxis that was managed safely. They were well-described in the product monograph and have been managed, he said. “Most of them have presented in individuals who may have had a history of allergies, and they have managed well, so at this point the signal is not of any concern, compared to what is known about these vaccines what we were expecting, with what’s know about other vaccines.”
He noted the importance of watching those vaccinated for 15 minutes after the shot, and if you have any allergies, make it known and you will be monitored some more.