Maple Creek-area event turned superspreader went 'way over' outdoor gathering limit: health minister

·3 min read
The health zone that includes Maple Creek and 26 other communities in southwest Saskatchewan reported 32 active cases of COVID-19 Thursday, with one new case announced that day. (Guy Quenneville/CBC - image credit)
The health zone that includes Maple Creek and 26 other communities in southwest Saskatchewan reported 32 active cases of COVID-19 Thursday, with one new case announced that day. (Guy Quenneville/CBC - image credit)

The mayor of a small Saskatchewan town whose residents were recently alerted they are at heightened risk of contracting highly transmissible coronavirus variants of concern says the area has recently experienced "excessive" partiers.

Meanwhile, health officials confirm a "recreational party" took place near the community and has sparked a superspreading event tied to 40 cases of COVID-19 as of early Friday.

RCMP are investigating but no fines have been issued yet.

Maple Creek Mayor Michelle McKenzie made the remarks Tuesday during a council meeting. RCMP Sgt. John Phipps had just completed a regular address about local crime statistics when McKenzie asked other councillors if they had any questions or concerns for the officer.

McKenzie had one.

"I think it comes down to just what we've been experiencing the last couple of days with the excessive.... partiers or anything else that exceeds the public health order," she said.

WATCH | Mayor McKenzie addresses the RCMP (at the 15:58 mark):

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CBC News has reached out to McKenzie for further comment.

One town councillor, Betty Abbott, declined to comment and referred CBC News to McKenzie and the Facebook feed.

Event 'disappointing': health minister

Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman was pressed for the second day in a row for details about the event.

Asked if it was either a high school party or a religious gathering, Merriman said he did not have those details.

He said the event went "way over" the limit of 10 people for private and public outdoor gatherings and that there was "minimal" adherence to public health rules.

"We've had very low numbers in the southwest part of the province, in the Maple Creek and Swift Current area," Merriman said. "It takes one event like this to start up another superspreader. It's disappointing."

Health Minister Paul Merriman said he was briefed on the situation but offered few details about the event.
Health Minister Paul Merriman said he was briefed on the situation but offered few details about the event. (CBC)

Saskatchewan RCMP said their Maple Creek detachment is investigating the April 2 event after receiving more than one complaint. It allegedly took place at a home in a rural area near Maple Creek, according to an RCMP spokesperson.

The Ministry of Health updated list of active COVID-19 outbreaks to include a "recreational party in the community," with Maple Creek cited as the location.

However, the SHA later confirmed the location of the event was as the RCMP stated: near Maple Creek.

40 cases linked to outdoor event

On Wednesday, the day after McKenzie's remarks, the Saskatchewan Health Authority warned residents in Maple Creek and Rosetown, Kindersley, Swift Current, Davidson, Moose Jaw, plus their surrounding areas, of increased risk of COVID-19 variants of concern "related to a number of recent large outdoor gatherings and failure to comply with current public health measures."

The health authority confirmed that day an outdoor gathering in southwestern Saskatchewan was tied to 21 infections, including some cases of variants of concern, although the exact variant was not yet identified.

No other details about the event were provided.

By early Friday, the number of cases linked to the event had multiplied to 40.

Town affairs on lockdown

In a virtual address posted on the Town of Maple Creek's Facebook page on Wednesday, McKenzie announced a series of clampdowns to protect town staff and residents from the spread of COVID-19.

A masked McKenzie said town employees were going door to door with flyers about variants of concern.

Some town staff would work from home, she said.

The town office and visitor centre is closed, she added.

"Residents of Maple Creek are strongly urged to strictly adhere to the current public health order and measures, including immediately [seeking] testing," McKenzie said.

Maple Creek is one of 27 communities monitored by health officials in the South West 1 zone. As of Thursday, that zone had 32 active cases of COVID-19, with one new case announced that day.