Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer says the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the Moose Jaw area is "very concerning," but while there are active talks about whether to impose stricter rules there, Premier Scott Moe says there's no need to go there yet.
"The numbers [in Moose Jaw] are not where Regina numbers were when we [recently] implemented additional restrictions," Moe said Tuesday during a COVID-19 news conference.
Moe also spoke in general against further tightening rules, calling public health measures "nothing more than a stopgap to buy us time until we get the majority of Saskatchewan residents vaccinated."
"What actually works is vaccinations," he said, pointing to an expected doubling of vaccinations in the next two weeks and the routing of newly received doses to areas such as Moose Jaw that are facing a heavy concentration of variants of concern.
Stricter rules 'not the goal': premier
Speaking at the same news conference, Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province's chief medical health officer, said Moose Jaw alone had 95 overall active cases of COVID-19, including 10 new cases, as of Tuesday.
"For a population that's a quarter of the size of Regina, again, very concerning," Shahab said. "I think Moose Jaw is on red alert."
Moose Jaw is part of the South Central 2 zone, which includes 15 other communities. But Moose Jaw appears to account for the vast majority of cases in the area, as the zone reported a total of 106 active cases on Tuesday.
Shahab says there are active discussions about possibly enacting more stringent measures for the area, as the province did in the Regina area recently.
Moe also cited such discussions, but said stricter rules are "not the goal."
"The goal is to keep COVID at a level that it isn't isn't overburdening our provincial health-care system," he said.
"I hope that there's no government in this nation, around the world that wants to close businesses or to limit the opportunity for people to go to work, people to go to recreational opportunities or limit kids going to school."
Moe says he has faith that people will follow the rules, even after making a similar pronouncement ahead of the recent spike in cases in Regina.
In the absence of tightened restrictions, Moe encouraged Moose Jaw residents to be "diligent" and go "above and beyond" current measures.
On Saturday, the province encouraged people in the area to take additional precautions, including:
Gathering only with immediate household and consider not increasing household bubble — similar to what is now law in Regina.
Limiting travel and shopping to essential only.
Staying home with even mild symptoms and seeking testing.
Shahab said people in Moose Jaw should look at the recently imposed new rules in Regina and "try to emulate that."
Asked what he would say to people who think his government is not being proactive against the further spread of COVID-19, Moe replied, "People can say what they like."
Mayor says increased measures may be needed
Earlier on Tuesday, Mayor Fraser Tolmie asked Moose Jaw residents to be extra vigilant.
"We want people to follow the restrictions," Tolmie said. "We can't lighten up at this time and we want people to be disciplined with the numbers rising."
The mayor said the city is having "open conversations" with public health officials and the provincial government regarding additional restrictions.
When asked about the possibility of imposing restrictions Tolmie said that "sometimes you have to make sacrifices to get to the other side."
Tolmie added that increased measures may be needed to "get us through the situation."
Tolmie said there would be an announcement "very soon" regarding the location of a drive-thru vaccination clinic in the city.
On Sunday, the Saskatchewan Health Authority announced mobile testing would be coming on Monday and Tuesday, with a return to drop-in testing on Wednesday.
As of Tuesday, 118 variants of concern had been detected in the South Central region, which includes Moose Jaw. There are 36 variants of concern identified through sequencing as the B1.1.7 variant in the region.
The South Central region is second to only the Regina area in cases identified with a variant of concern.
With cases rising rapidly and nearly 90 of them variants of concern, it's time to extend the public health restrictions to Moose Jaw. - Opposition leader Ryan Meili
On Sunday, opposition leader Ryan Meili called took to social media to urge the government to increase restrictions in the city.
"With cases rising rapidly and nearly 90 of them variants of concern, it's time to extend the public health restrictions to Moose Jaw," he said.
As of Monday, the South Central region had 103 active cases, up from 38 on March 15.
Last week, Prairie South School Division decided to move all pre K-12 Moose Jaw schools and Caronport Elementary to online learning until April 12.
"Although we continue to have no confirmed school level transmission, we have had more positive cases in schools over the last two days than we had for the 38 days prior to that," Tony Baldwin, the director of education, said in a letter to parents.