COVID-19 in Sask.: Bubbles limited to immediate households as variants rise in Saskatoon and elsewhere

·4 min read
Health Minister Paul Merriman speaks at a Saskatchewan COVID-19 news conference in April 2021. (CTV - image credit)
Health Minister Paul Merriman speaks at a Saskatchewan COVID-19 news conference in April 2021. (CTV - image credit)

The Saskatchewan government is tightening some public health rules across the province and also expanding access to vaccines as the number of coronavirus variants continues to increase in several regions, particularly in Saskatoon, where a bar was flagged late Tuesday as a potential site of coronavirus variant exposures.

Effective immediately throughout the province, bubbles are limited to people's immediate households, no matter the region. Previously, that tightened rule was only in place in Regina.

There are "limited exceptions for co-parenting arrangements, caregivers and service people," Health Minister Paul Merriman said.

"Be very cautious if we work outside the home," added Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer.

In another step, as of Friday all churches and other places of worship will be limited to 30 people.

Some stricter measures in Regina are not being extended elsewhere, including a strong recommendation to avoid unnecessary travel in and out of the city, and limiting restaurants to take-out service.

Merriman said he's hopeful the case numbers in Saskatoon will stabilize even without those extra steps, based on what's happened in Regina.

"I think we've done a very good job in Regina," he said. "Residents have done an extremely good job of adhering to [the rules] because the numbers haven't gone anywhere near where they were projected to go."

Vaccine access widened to new groups

The province is also opening up vaccine access to people by lowering the age requirement for walk-in appointments to 52 from 55. That change will kick in on Wednesday.

More vulnerable groups are also being added to the priority vaccine queue and are therefore immediately eligible for vaccination:

  • All pregnant women.

  • 16- and 17-year-olds who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable.

  • Everyone over the age of 40 in the province's far north.

Pregnant women and vulnerable 16- and 17-year-olds will receive an eligibility letter from their physician and will need to use the 1-833-SASK-VAX telephone number to book.

The changes come as some areas continue to see a rise in coronavirus variants.

The Saskatoon area in particular stood out on Tuesday as it reported a cumulative 302 virus variant cases, up from 181 on Monday.

Shahab said if the numbers don't improve soon in Saskatoon, more restrictions will be necessary there. He said the proportion of cases in the area that are coronavirus variants has risen in recent weeks to between 30 and 40 per cent, and called that trend "very concerning."

"Saskatoon really has to work hard to avoid following Regina's trajectory," Shahab said, pointing to the rapid initial rise of variants in the latter city several weeks ago.

Saqib Shahab, chief medical health officer, speaks at a COVID-19 news update.
Saqib Shahab, chief medical health officer, speaks at a COVID-19 news update.(Michael Bell/The Canadian Press)

Variant cases in the Regina, southwest, south central and southeast areas increased day-over-day Tuesday by 82, seven, 20 and 23 cases, respectively. Merriman noted that Regina's daily variant numbers have settled at a worryingly high level.

The Saskatchewan NDP said the changes announced Tuesday came too late.

"Scott Moe saw the modelling and knew the variants were on the rise. Instead of acting to win the race between the vaccines and the variants, he gave the variants a head start," the party's chief health critic, Vicki Mowat, said in a statement.

"Just like in November, we are seeing a premier unwilling to take serious steps when they are needed."

2 more deaths reported in Regina area

Health officials reported a total of 288 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, based on 3,007 tests, while two more deaths were reported. Both deaths were recorded in the Regina area: one person in their 30s and one in their 60s.

The new cases were found in the following areas:

  • Far northwest: four.

  • Northwest: 31.

  • North central: five.

  • Northeast: three.

  • Saskatoon: 44.

  • Central west: two.

  • Central east: 22.

  • Regina: 117.

  • Southwest: 18.

  • South central: 17

  • Southeast: 17

  • Pending residence information: eight.

Seven cases with pending residence information have been assigned to the North central (two), Saskatoon (one), Regina (one), South central (one) and Southeast (two) areas.

<cite>(CBC)</cite>
(CBC)

There are 202 people with COVID-19 in hospital, including 41 people under intensive care.

On the vaccine front, 7,846 more doses were administered on Monday. That's well below the daily rate that a recent CBC News analysis found is needed in order for the province to meet its new target of getting all adults aged 18 and over access to their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by mid-May.