A Saskatoon-based gospel singer who performed unmasked during a recently-flagged concert in northern Saskatchewan says she's awaiting her COVID-19 test result after she learned a fan who hugged her at the concert later tested positive for the virus.
Yvonne St. Germaine is self-isolating at her home in Saskatoon and said she wasn't aware of the provincial health guideline, in place since June, that recommends against singing and requires those who do to wear masks.
Nobody at the Oct. 3 event — which she said was tied to the release of her latest CD and co-organized by St. Germaine and community leaders in Beauval — told her to wear a mask, she said.
"No, I didn't know," St. Germaine said Friday of the mask rule for singers at places of worship. "I just showed up. I knew protocol not to be out in the audience. But no, honestly, I did not know of having to wear masks during your singing."
Nick Daigneault, the mayor of Beauval, said Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) officials were consulted during preparations for the concert.
"[It] just kind of blew me away," St. Germaine said of later learning about the rule.
She said the person who hugged her after the concert contacted her directly to tell her about the positive test result.
St. Germaine said she doesn't blame anyone.
"Everyone's excited to see you and greet you and they come at you so fast and, you know, people you haven't seen in a long time, like it just happened so fast," she said.
"You hug people and they just want pictures. And, you know, everything is just one, two, three and it's done. And here I am getting tested."
Germaine said she had no symptoms of the virus and was confident the event would not become a superspreader.
Concert prompts health alert
On Thursday night, the health authority issued a public health alert about the Beauval concert. The SHA asked any attendees to immediately self isolate and call the 811 health line if they did not wear a mask, did not stick to their households or bubbles, or shared food or drinks.
"Medical Health officer Dr. Rim Zayed emphasized that attending these events while sick and or attending without complying with public health recommendations for mass gathering puts you and everyone in your surrounding in your community at greater risk of infection with COVID-19," the SHA release said.
Those who attended the Beauval event but wore masks at all times and kept a distance of two metres from other people are only being asked to self-monitor for 14 days. If they develop symptoms of the virus, however, they are to immediately self-isolate and call the 811 health line.
Photos of the event posted to social media show a mostly-unmasked audience seated around tables.
More than 100 people from Beauval and surrounding communities went to the Beauval event, according to an update English River First Nation provided to its members on Wednesday.
Mayor Daigneault said the concert proceeded as a "place of worship" event, meaning that the venue was authorized to hold up to 150 people under the province's "place of worship" COVID-19 guidelines.
Not that many people were there, Daigneault said. He pointed out that while the hall can accommodate up to 400 people, seating was arranged allowing for a maximum of 60 people.
"We did the best we could at the time," Daigneault said.
"We did everything that SHA has indicated. We spaced out the tables, we had all the posters all over the wall, we had masks available, hand sanitizer at the front door and we put the posters up too saying if you have these symptoms, don't enter the building."
One video of the event shows the artists performed a fair distance away from the audience.
The crowd grew larger than expected, he said.
"It was supposed to be a community-based event. But, of course, we're so connected with our neighbouring communities and it's not like we're going to turn anybody away."
Beauval concert tied to Prince Albert outbreak
The Beauval concert is the latest event to be linked to a COVID-19 outbreak stemming from a Prince Albert gospel centre.
Earlier this week, the SHA warned people who had attended Full Gospel Outreach Centre meetings in Prince Albert from Sept. 14 to Oct. 4 to immediately self-isolate and seek medical care.
Ian Lavalee, an evangelist who led meetings, told CBC News that while masks and hand sanitizer were available, members did not wear masks while singing — in direct contravention of Saskatchewan's places of worship rules.
Lavalee said he did not know about the masking rule for singers
English River First Nation said a person who went to both Prince Albert's Full Gospel Outreach Centre and the concert in Beauval has tested positive for COVID-19.
"There are two confirmed positive cases in Île-à-la-Crosse," according to the First Nation.
On Friday, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) said it would begin restricting visits to the long term care centre in Île-à-la-Crosse "after COVID-19 cases in the area."
Candyce Paul, a communications worker for English River First Nation, said the band's update was based on information shared by the SHA.
Paul said it's unclear if the person who attended both gospel events is one of the confirmed cases in Île-à-la-Crosse, due to the way health officials protect people's privacy when reporting case data to communities.
"It all leads back to [the Prince Albert church meetings]," Paul said of the information shared with English River First Nation.
Later on Friday, Zayed told listeners on local radio station CIPI that there were three total known cases in Île-à-la-Crosse.
No positive cases have emerged in Beauval.
"We know that there was not really good compliance with the mask precautions," Zayed said of the Beauval concert.
'A critical spike in cases'
Paul said some members from English River First Nation went to the Beauval event but that no one from the First Nation has tested positive.
"There has been a critical spike in cases of COVID-19 in surrounding communities, as well, as other frequently visited communities outside of our area," English River First Nation wrote in a follow-up Facebook post on Thursday.
"This development is cause for concern as a number of residents of our communities have either visited the affected communities or attended events in those communities and may have had direct contact with individuals who have tested positive."
Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, said Thursday that more positive cases tied to the church in Prince Albert can be expected.
Sask. Party Leader Scott Moe said the province has the testing and contact tracing capacity to deal with regional outbreaks and that those staff are hard at work.
Cases in Southend, Deschambault Lake linked to outbreak
The cases reported by English River were not the first to be linked to the Prince Albert outbreak this week.
On Thursday, Chief Peter Beatty of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation said a woman from Southend tested positive for the virus after attending one of the Prince Albert church meetings as well as a funeral in Pelican Narrows. He said that person has infected four other people: an elderly person in Southend and three people in Deschambault Lake.
Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation placed its communities on lockdown and closed its schools as a result.
English River First Nation took similar steps on Thursday.
"As a precaution, and to protect our most vulnerable, the school will be closed and sanitized," the band wrote on Facebook. "It is mandatory that masks are worn at any public places, and please don't forget to wash and or sanitize your hands frequently."
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