Fifty-six new cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Saskatchewan since Friday, including 31 on Monday.
"We are seeing now more cases — sporadic, in the community, not linked to any international or interprovincial travel, not linked to any gathering — and that's something we need to watch very closely," said Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab at a news conference Monday afternoon.
Two new cases — one in the central region and one in the south — were reported on Saturday before case numbers jumped the next day.
A total of 23 cases were confirmed on Sunday: 13 in the south region, five in Saskatoon, three in the central region and two in the Regina area.
Numbers rose again on Monday, with 27 new cases in the central region, two in the Regina area, one in Saskatoon and one in the south.
"We expect to see [cases] increase slightly as we reopen but we need to keep a close eye on that and understand what are the settings for transmission and continue to review our guidelines and provide feedback to the public about what more can be done to keep that number as low as possible," said Shahab.
Province releases list of affected RMs
The provincial government also provided a list of rural municipalities where cases have been identified — information that has not usually been released with new case numbers.
Cases have been recorded in the RMs of Maple Creek, Auvergne, Biggar, Carmichael, Eagle Creek, Harris, Lac Pelletier, Newcombe, Perdue, Kellross and Prairiedale.
In a news release accompanying the new case numbers Monday, the SHA said it is working with the Hutterian Safety Council "to address this situation."
Outbreaks in Hutterite communities near the town of Maple Creek, in the province's South West, were announced in mid-June.
"Their co-operation has allowed for increased testing and contact tracing in these areas, which greatly contributed to identifying these new cases and ensuring residents are receiving the support they need," said the news release.
More public service announcements could follow contact tracing
Shahab said there are around eight cases identified in the southwest over the past three to four days that are not linked to any other cases.
"Public health is following up with case contact investigation, and if required there may be one or more public service announcements related to that," he said.
Although the cases were confirmed over three days, they were not released until Monday due to a change in public reporting that occurred on July 1 — when the province stopped issuing news releases about COVID-19 numbers on weekends or statutory holidays. The information is instead released in summaries after the weekend or holiday.
Asked whether Monday's case numbers could prompt a change in the recommendations for wearing masks, Shahab said that will be assessed based on trends in transmission. The current advice from the province is to wear a mask in settings where physical distancing may not be possible.
"If we continue to see transmission happening in settings where people may have been indoors, they may have been trying to comply with two-metre separation ... if we continue to see a signal that transmission is ramping up, we will have to see what other steps need to be taken," said Shahab.
Steps could include rules around mask use or a rethinking some of the physical distancing guidelines, Shahab said,
"But that's something that we actively have to track now for the foreseeable future."
Universal testing starts Tuesday
The provincial government also announced universal testing for COVID-19 will be available starting Tuesday, meaning anyone who wants a test can have one regardless of whether they have symptoms. Referrals can be made by contacting HealthLine at 811.
More health services, including mental health and addictions supports, also resumed Monday under Phase 3 of the SHA's resumption plan.
Additional chronic disease management, wellness programs and stroke prevention services are among other services that have recommenced.