REGINA — Saskatchewan's top doctor says he hopes a plateauing of COVID-19 cases and a vaccine rollout is giving residents a bit of holiday cheer on a day marked by more deaths and new public-health restrictions.
Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab says the weekly average of new daily infections sits at 230, which is the lowest in weeks.
About 250 health-care workers in Regina have also received a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine since shots started Tuesday. Another 300 workers were booked to be immunized Thursday.
"This is a week after many weeks that we have positive news to report," Shahab said during a news conference.
"We should all … celebrate and congratulate each other for that. Stay the course and enjoy the holiday season."
Shahab tempered his optimism with a warning for residents not to let their guard down, as Saskatchewan's test positivity rate is still high at 7.8 per cent.
The province reported 238 new cases Thursday.
It also surpassed more than 100 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Seven new deaths were reported, with five of them 80 and over, bringing the total to 105.
"Our system is still severely strained," said Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone.
"Given the high case counts, which are levelling off, the large numbers of outbreaks in our hospitals and our care homes, we still require extraordinary efforts just to keep the system from being overwhelmed."
He said more than 70 staff have been redeployed to a single long-term care home in Regina, where 20 residents have died.
Of Extendicare Parkside's 138 residents, 135 have contracted COVID-19. Of those, 57 have recovered. Livingstone said 82 staff at the facility had also tested also positive.
Last week, the private care home entered into an agreement with the health authority to help manage the outbreak, which has been the worst in all of the province's long-term care facilities.
On Thursday, hospitals were treating 126 patients with COVID-19, 22 of them in intensive care.
A new public-health gathering rule also came into effect and is to be in place until at least Jan. 15.
Residents can no longer have visitors in their homes, with some exceptions. Those who live alone can socialize with people in another household that has no more than five people, child custody arrangements can continue and residents can keep receiving support services.
The previous measure said no more than five people could be inside a home, unless they were all living under the same roof. Police in Regina said officers wrote a $2,800 ticket for a woman after finding eight people in an apartment last weekend.
Shahab said the new rule was brought in because household visiting remains the main way COVID-19 is spreading.
People are also limited to socializing in outdoor groups no larger than 10.
Starting Saturday, bingo halls and casinos must also close, and personal care services, such as hairdressers, have to cut their capacity in half.
Retailers have until Christmas Day before they also need to drop to 50 per cent capacity, and larger stores will be limited to 25 per cent.
Premier Scott Moe has said he knows the restrictions about gatherings will be tough because of the holidays, but residents should plan to have a quieter Christmas.
The premier said he doesn't believe there would be a benefit to ordering a complete shutdown of businesses, and hopes the new capacity limits will drive down the province's COVID-19 caseload.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 17, 2020
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press