'Do not have gatherings': Sask. top doctor says to limit yourself to essential contacts

·5 min read
Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab says Saskatchewan residents should limit their contacts and not gather. However, the province is not installing official gathering restrictions at this time.  (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab says Saskatchewan residents should limit their contacts and not gather. However, the province is not installing official gathering restrictions at this time. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Saskatchewan's top doctor is asking residents to limit their contact with people to only the essential, and to not have gatherings.

Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said staying away from gatherings is critical to stopping the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant.

"We need to do everything to blunt the wave. This is not the time for any gatherings at all. You should do what is essential, which means going to work and going to school. But otherwise not having any contact with anyone outside your household," Shahab said at a news conference on Thursday.

The province is still not implementing official gathering restrictions, as other provinces have done, despite skyrocketing COVID-19 case numbers.

Meanwhile, videos allegedly showing high school students partying mask-less and in close quarters on New Year's Eve, as well videos of adults at nightclubs, are being shared across social media in the province. They're fuelling some frustration among Saskatchewan residents.

"I have received a couple of reports about house parties that are very crowded and have resulted in secondary transmission in schools," said Shahab.

Dan Vakoch/Twitter
Dan Vakoch/Twitter

Shahab said he has not received a lot of information about transmissions linked to New Year's celebrations.

"I think the next two to four weeks, we really need to be very cautious. I would like to say that the government relies on the public actually doing the right thing, and most of us do. But if a significant proportion don't, then that means that unfortunately the government would have to consider stronger measures."

Shahab said the Omicron is less severe than other COVID-19 variants, but by no means something residents should disregard.

"Absolutely I think a single large transmission event right now can generate hundreds of cases in that event, which can within a week lead to thousands of cases because the doubling time was three to four days," he said.

"So within two to three weeks, one single ill-planned and not recommended event can result in thousands of cases which, once they impact people who are unvaccinated, who are older, who are frail and compromised, will lead to increase in hospitalizations."

WATCH | Party footage sparks concern in Saskatchewan

In a statement to the CBC, the province said it would not be instating gathering limits as of Thursday.

"But as the Premier has stated, he is not ruling out new measures in the coming days if required," read the statement.

Pandemic fatigue among youth

Dr. Tamara Hinz, a Saskatoon child and adolescent psychiatrist and an assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan in the college of medicine, said she found the pictures of partying high school students crammed together in a room shocking.

"We're so not used to seeing people so tightly gathered and so many bodies in one space.... And so I think my immediate, visceral reaction was sort of being shocked and horrified at the potential for COVID transmission in a gathering like that," Hinz said.

"But soon afterwards my second reaction was, based on our current regulations and legislation, these children and the parents who let them go, if they were aware of the party, technically did nothing wrong.

"And I think that feels like it's a really uncomfortable contrast, that it feels instinctively so unsafe and wrong."

Hinz said it's important that people look to their government and other forms of authority to receive direction in terms of what is currently safe and what they should be allowed to do as the pandemic rages on.

Chanss Lagaden/CBC
Chanss Lagaden/CBC

She said many experts like herself are calling for sensible limits to protect people. Meanwhile, many young people are experiencing pandemic fatigue, she said.

"Most teenagers are inherently social beings. It's really that important part of adolescent development to be with our peers. And so there's going to be that natural drive to to get together with friends," Hinz said.

"It's hard on all of us. But the younger you are, the greater the proportion of your life that this pandemic has been around. So I certainly don't blame kids for feeling the lingering effects of that."

Hinz said children's mental health should be prioritized and that's partly why children should be in schools.

"But that can't happen if the virus is just left unchecked to rampage through our communities. So to keep schools safe, we need to keep our communities safe. And allowing massive close contact gatherings like that is not going to do it."

Opposition response

Official Opposition Leader Ryan Meili said he was disappointed to see parties that are indoors, mask-less and with many people crammed together.

"That's obviously not in line with what public health would be recommending. But let's make it clear: we can't expect teenagers to lead the way when adults won't," Meili said.

"When you've got a government that has been downplaying this, saying, 'don't worry about it, it's mild, it's not serious, it's not happening here yet,' this is what happens. People don't take it seriously and especially younger, immature folks are going to go and respond in that way."

CBC reached out to both Regina Public Schools and the Regina Catholic School Division about the alleged parties, and they said they could not comment on non-school-sanctioned events.

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