Regina– The spread of COVID-19 variants in Regina and surrounding bedroom communities is of growing concern to the provincial government, and was the focus of much of the discussion during the regular COVID-19 briefing at the Legislature on March 16.
Premier Scott Moe said that public health measures across the province would be extended from March 19 to April 5. And while other areas of the province will be allowed to enlarge attendance in worship services to one-third capacity, or 150, whichever is lower, Regina and area will have to keep attendance down to 30.
According to the daily COVID-19 report from the Ministry of Health, “As of March 16, there are 66 new confirmed variants of concern (VOC) cases being reported in the Saskatoon (1), Central East (1), Regina (61), South Central (1) and South East (2) zones. This brings the provincial total to 136: 130 B188.8.131.52 (UK) and six B1.351 (SA). The Regina zone accounts for 122 (or 90 per cent) of the confirmed VOC cases reported in Saskatchewan.”
Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said that, as expected, the COVID variants are having their impact. While the rest of the province was trending downward, “Regina is the opposite of the rest of the province.”
That city’s cases is now 21 per 100,000 people. The active case rate is high and the test positivity rate is 9.1.
“The bulk new cases in Regina are variants of concern,” Shahab said, noting it have become the dominant strain.
Additionally, small pockets have shown up in Moose Jaw, Yorkton, Saskatoon and Prince Albert area.
Those variants are 70 per cent more transmissible, he said. Whereas the initial strain of COVID-19 might infect two-thirds of an infected person’s household, Shahab said the B184.108.40.206 strain infects almost 100 per cent.
He said three households totalling up to 10 people can form a bubble, but especially cautioned those over 50 to hold off until vaccinated. He stressed reducing the number of people shopping, and perhaps ordering takeout from restaurants.
“Obviously if case numbers keep rising, then you know, further restrictions may be considered,” Shahab said.
Moe said, “While provincewide case numbers and hospitalization numbers are much lower than they were just a couple of months ago, we are seeing an increase in the number of cases, and in particular, the number of varying cases, right here in our capital city of Regina. As a result, on the recommendation of Dr. Shahab and his team, all of the current public health orders which were set to expire on March the 19th have been extended hold until April the fifth.”
Moe said Saskatchewan had administered 108,000 vaccine shots, with the second highest rate, per capita, of any province except Prince Edward Island. Fifty per cent of Saskatchewan residents over the age of 80 have now received their first shot.
In the previous week, the province has been opening up the opportunity to book vaccinations, starting initially with people over 85, and then incrementally adding more eligible age groups. By March 16, people across the province over the age of 70 could now book their vaccination appointments (50 and over in the far north). People 60 to 64 can take part in the Regina drive-thru vaccination clinic, using the province’s supplies of that vaccine. On March 15, the first day of that clinic, over 1,700 shots were administered, and province-wide, a total of 4,000 people had received their vaccinations (including the Regina numbers.)
“In fact, by this Friday, we expect to do over 8,000 shots throughout the province, based on the number of appointments that we currently have booked,” Moe said.
He thanked those setting up the vaccine clinics, those who are working in them, and those making appointments and getting their shot.
Moe added, “Just a couple of hours ago, the federal officials have informed our Saskatchewan officials that the Moderna shipment to Canada that is scheduled for next week is going to be cut by about 70 per cent. Moderna says it will deliver the remaining 70 per cent of those doses during the following week. This will result in a one-week delay to Saskatchewan of about 23,000 doses. This is problematic for us in our delivery of these vaccines, since our appointment system is built on the very delivery schedule that we received from the federal government. So scheduling appointments at over 100 of our clinics throughout the province is, as you know, a very complex task.
“And as I previously stated, our health officials will certainly, in the last number of days, have been up to the task of ensuring that appointment scheduling system runs smoothly and runs without, without hiccups. What they do depend on a very steady and reliable delivery of those very vaccines from the federal government in order for it to all work out into people ultimately be able to receive their vaccines.”
On March 15, a total of 15,374 appointments were booked using the new appointment systems: 11,838 online and 3,536 by telephone.
On March 16, Saskatchewan had 156 new cases of COVID-19, 161 recoveries, and two deaths reported. There were 138 people in hospital, with 31 in intensive care. The seven-day average of daily new cases was 138, or 11.3 new cases per 100,000 population. There were 1,292 active cases.
Brian Zinchuk, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Estevan Mercury