Saskatchewan has 3rd case of COVID variant; nurses union calls for more transparency

·3 min read

REGINA — The head of Saskatchewan's main nurses' union is urging provincial leaders to explain how they plan to deal with a more infectious strain of COVID-19 following a report of a third variant case.

The Ministry of Health announced Thursday that a person in the Saskatoon area had tested positive for the United Kingdom variant, which is believed to spread more easily.

The province said the individual had self-isolated after returning from Southeast Asia and there was no evidence the variant had made its way into the community.

The first two variant infections, also believed to be contained, were reported Tuesday in the Regina area.

“We need to be … much more vigilant and much more transparent on ... figuring out if we have the variants, where they are, and how people should protect themselves," said Tracy Zambory, president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses.

She pointed to Alberta where the chief medical health officer has said close contacts of anyone testing positive for a variant could have to isolate for up to 24 days.

Zambory noted there are conversations happening in Canada and beyond about whether people need to wear two masks to protect against spreading the new strains.

"We need to know these things. We need to understand them and it seems like right now we’re not getting any understanding on how that’s going.”

The Ministry of Health said earlier this week that officials are watching the activity of variants and will consider that when deciding what to do about public health orders set to expire on Feb. 19.

"What we’re doing right now is not showing any measurable decline in both the number of positive cases and the number of hospitalizations," said Barb Cape, president of the Service Employees International Union-West, which represents licensed practical nurses and special care aides.

“Those aren’t just numbers to us; those are people.”

Another 250 COVID-19 infections were reported Thursday along with seven more deaths. January marked the province's deadliest month of the pandemic — more than 150 people died, many of them 80 and older.

The Opposition raised a flag about the number of people hospitalized with the infection. The number dropped to 185 Wednesday from at least 200.

NDP Leader Ryan Meili said he has heard concerns from some front-line staff that the province may be under-reporting the number of COVID-19 patients in hospital by only including those deemed to be infectious. That's how the number was calculated until last December.

A government spokesman confirmed the number of patients in hospital was under-reported on Tuesday and Wednesday because of "ongoing hospitalization data validation."

The Health Ministry said the correct numbers were 238 on Tuesday and 229 on Wednesday — the highest to date since the pandemic began last March.

It said infectious and non-infectious patients were included in the counts.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2020

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press