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- There are now 86 cases of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan, up from 72 on Tuesday.
- Four cases are in hospital. Out of those, two are in intensive care.
- Public gatherings in Saskatchewan are now capped at 10 people, effective Thursday.
Saskatchewan is now officially in what Premier Scott Moe has dubbed "the social distancing economy."
On Wednesday, Moe outlined a wide variety of business types that will have to close their physical locations in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus. Previously, only a small selection of businesses, including bars and nightclubs, had been ordered closed or reduced to operating under strict conditions.
Also, effective Thursday all public gatherings will now be limited to 10 people, down from a previous limit of 25 people.
The new measures came as the province announced 14 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, bringing the total number in Saskatchewan to 86.
Notably, there are now four COVID-19 cases in hospital, including two who are in intensive care.
Moe said Saskatchewan overall remains better prepared than China, where the coronavirus originated and went undetected for 10 weeks.
Here's a clip of Moe further comparing the two countries' difference experiences of the virus:
Businesses that can stay open
The list of critical businesses and services that can remain open was released by the provincial government.
The list includes:
- Health care and public health workers.
- Law enforcement, public safety and first responders.
- Production, processing and manufacturing and the supporting supply chains.
- Transportation and logistics.
- Government and community services.
- Media and telecommunications.
- Construction including maintenance and repair.
- Select retail services.
- Banking and financial services.
Below is a more complete list of the allowable businesses and services. Don't see it? Click here.
"I know today that we are asking a lot of everyone," Moe said during a news conference Thursday.
Moe added that business have already adapted by doing things like restricting the number of people allowed in stores and opening early for seniors.
"It will reduce the risk. Thank you."
Moe was asked why liquor stores have been allowed to remain open.
"This is not a time to add to any of our detox capacity, if you will, add people into that system more or any of our addiction services," Moe said.
"If we were to close the publicly owned liquor stores, we'd be driving people to a smaller number of private stores in our communities."
The current list of stores allowed to remain open will be in effect for two weeks but will be reviewed daily, he said.
Businesses that must close their stores Thursday
The government also released a list of businesses that will be forced to shutter brick-and-mortar operations, though it pointed out that nothing stops those businesses from shifting to online, pickup and delivery-only arms.
That list of non-critical stores includes:
- Clothing stores.
- Shoe stores.
- Flower shops.
- Sporting good and adventure stores.
- Vaping supply shops.
- Boat, ATV, or snowmobile retailers.
- Gift, book or stationery stores.
- Jewelry and accessory stores.
- Toy stores.
- Music, electronic and entertainment stores.
- Pawn shops.
- Travel agencies.
Union blasts province's COVID-19 plan
A union representing thousands of Saskatchewan health care workers has blasted the provincial health authority's COVID-19 plan as "deficient," saying it needs more emphasis on better communication and more testing.
Service Employees' International Union (SEIU) West, which represents about 11,000 health care professionals in the province, issued a news release titled Provincial COVID-19 Plan Deficient on Wednesday morning, a day after a COVID-19 provincial planning document was leaked.
"This government continues to display a lack of comprehension about the challenges faced by our members daily in the provision of health care services," the release said.
"We would like more emphasis on prevention and testing. Working together in support of our health care providers, we need everyone to meet their social responsibility of flattening the curve."
'Stark inconsistencies' flagged
The union said front-line workers are faced with "stark inconsistencies" in how they're expected to take precautions for their own personal health, including whether they need to self-isolate and the use of personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves.
"We need more information," SEIU-West president Barbara Cape said in an interview. "We need to know what are the protocols? What are the dos and don'ts? And they need to be standard across the [system]....
"We have health care workers who are essentially running into the fire that is the COVID-19 pandemic."
The union said the public has a role to play in combating the virus' spread, too.
"We want the general public to understand that the only way to protect our health care providers, ourselves and our families is to comply with the social distancing requirements mandated by the Government of Saskatchewan."
The government's leaked COVID-19 document included stark estimates about the virus' potential effect, including anywhere between 9,000 and 15,000 deaths, based on an assumption of about 30 per cent of the province's population becoming infected.
The March 19-20 document also laid out plans for field hospitals in as-yet-unspecified locations and even the use of rinks to store bodies.
"I'm glad they're doing some forward planning, but sadly, we were asking these questions about these sort of preparations last week," Cape said.
We have health care workers who are essentially running into the fire that is the COVID-19 pandemic. - SEIU-West president Barbara Cape
The language in which those plans were couched didn't sit well with the union.
"The plan for Saskatchewan from the SHA outlines a war-time strategy with the use of military terms such as 'field hospitals' and 'casualty storage' — all of which is terribly unsettling," the release said.
Cape had some advice for the province.
"Talk to the frontline health care workers," she said. "Because they know what's going on and they can be an incredibly strong resource for creating some movement in the system, for people to actually have some good ideas going forward."
New testing parameters recommended
Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, is now recommending that all people in the province with COVID-19-like symptoms, even those who have not travelled outside of Canada, be tested for the virus.
In the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, provincial health officials asked that people get tested only if they had symptoms of the novel coronavirus and had recently travelled internationally.
The recommended shift in strategy came Tuesday, the same day the province said four of the then-72 cases found in the province are instances of community transmission, or as Shahab described them, "cases without a clear exposure history," including no history of recent travel.
Two of those cases are in Saskatoon, one is in Regina and one is in an unspecified central Saskatchewan community.
Here's a regional breakdown of Saskatchewan's 72 COVID-19 cases as of March 24.
"This is an important inflection point in terms of these other cases we were expecting," Shahab said of those cases of community transmission.
"Based on that, we will be making some further recommendations today about further increasing testing for people who have not travelled."
The province has already expanded its testing parameters, including testing for COVID-19 in all declared outbreaks in long term care homes.
"We already test a large number of people in the E.R., in the inpatient setting, in the long term care setting," Shahab said Tuesday. "That will be expanding to people in the outpatient setting who have not travelled.
"There is lab capacity capacity to maintain that. And obviously we'll be looking at other measures beyond what are already in place to try to further limit or break the chains of transmission."
Below is a graph showing how the cumulative number of tests has increased as of March 24.
Twice the number of cases as Manitoba
As of early Wednesday, nationally Saskatchewan had the fifth highest number of COVID-19 cases, behind Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.
Shahab was asked Tuesday why Manitoba, which has a relatively similar population and has also been testing thousands of people, has only half the number of cases (35) as Saskatchewan (72) at the time.
"It's hard to actually compare because I don't have the data of how many people are returning per capita in Manitoba versus Saskatchewan," Shahab said Tuesday. "It's a good question but I don't have a good answer.
"At the end of the day we need to look at our data, what we have in place, and how do we keep refining that based on our local transmission.... We have to work collaboratively across the prairies but we also have to take actions that are based on our own data as well."
'Should numbers grow, more can be shared'
Earlier this week, CBC News asked the Saskatchewan Health Authority to confirm if either of the two COVID-19 cases known at the time to be in hospital because of a pre-existing illnesses have moved to intensive care.
Dr. Susan Shaw, the SHA's chief medical officer, said Monday she did not have that information, and that if she did, "it would not be appropriate to share it because of the importance of protecting our patients' personal health information."
CBC News asked the health authority again for an update on those two patients.
Late Tuesday, Shaw gave some added insight into why the health authority is reluctant to do that at this point.
"When numbers are fortunately small (2), it is good practice to be initially limit what level of detail is shared," she tweeted. "These numbers are mothers, brothers, cousins, friends, members of tightly-knit Saskatchewan communities.
"Unfortunately, should numbers grow, more can be shared."
The health ministry has been reporting the province's COVID-19 cases according to five geographical areas: the North, central Saskatchewan (excluding Saskatoon), Saskatoon, Regina and southern Saskatchewan (excluding Regina). The province has also released information on the gender breakdown of cases, as well as semi-regular information on how many of the cases are in hospital versus those that are well enough to self-isolate at home.
But the government has faced growing calls for even more specific case information, particular the names of the communities outside of Saskatoon and Regina that have COVID-19 cases.
At Wednesday's news conference, Moe pledged to offer more information in the future.
"Just be a little bit gracious with us," Moe said. "We are endeavouring to get to a level of a higher degree of transparency."