Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab is cautioning residents to keep their virtual households small as people return to school.
Shahab suggested people should keep their close contacts — anyone they're within two metres of, not including in a classroom setting — to about 10 people.
"We should be able to count our close contacts on the fingers of our hands," Shahab said during the government's COVID-19 update on Friday.
Saskatchewan has the lowest active case rate in western Canada, Shahab said. He noted that as of Aug. 22, Saskatchewan's effective reproductive number was 0.7, meaning each person with COVID-19 is infecting less than one other person on average.
Shahab also said there are less than five active cases with an unknown source of exposure.
"Schools reflect community transmission," Shahab said. "So if your community transmission is high, that increases the likelihood of a case or a cluster in a school. So the fact that we have low community transmission is the most important thing we can do to minimize the chance of a case or cluster emerging in school."
'This is an extraordinary year for children'
Shahab said he expects there will be occasional clusters in schools, but that outbreaks will be less common in schools than in workplaces.
Teachers and school staff will have priority access to testing before and during the school year, he said.
"We realize that this is an extraordinary year for children, families, and school staff," Shahab said.
"We all need to understand as parents, as children in school, as staff, that it will be a year when there will be several times a year when children have to stay home."
He said if a child tested positive, contact tracing would not include the entire class, only "close contacts," which he defined as "individuals less than two meters away for a prolonged period of time throughout the day."
Saskatchewan reported two new cases of COVID-19 and 16 new recoveries on Friday, bringing the total number of active cases to 44.
One of the new cases is in the Saskatoon zone and one is in the west section of the far north.
The province says 20 of the 44 active cases are in communal living settings.
There was no change in the number of hospitalizations since Thursday, with three hospitalizations reported. Two people are in intensive care and one person is receiving inpatient care, all in Saskatoon.
Since reporting started, 1,611 cases of COVID-19 have been announced in the province.
There have been 24 deaths related to COVID-19 in the province.
The government says 1,561 tests were performed in the province on Thursday. Anyone is eligible to receive a test, even if they are asymptomatic.
Plans for drive-thru testing
There are no dates set yet for when drive-through testing will be available, but Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone said the authority is working on securing drive-thru testing sites and looking into incorporating drive-thru testing at existing sites.
The health authority is working toward processing up to 4,000 tests per day.
The government says 1,561 tests were performed in the province on Thursday.
The health authority has hired more staff and procured new equipment in order to meet demand. Livingstone said if testing capacity needs to increase further, the health authority could roll back some testing being done for other ailments, as was done at the beginning of the pandemic.
"Right now, from a demand perspective, anything that's coming to us, we're meeting that demand," Livingstone said.
Anyone is eligible to receive a test, even if they are asymptomatic.