Saskatchewan considers revising public health order after premier gets COVID-19

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REGINA — Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer says he's considering whether to revise the province's public health order on masks in light of Premier Scott Moe testing positive for COVID-19 after a news conference.

Dr. Saqib Shahab says he has flagged the matter with the Ministry of Health.

Moe took off his mask at a COVID-19 briefing Wednesday with Shahab, government officials, a sign language interpreter and reporters in the same room.

On Thursday morning, he tested positive for the virus using a rapid-antigen test.

The 14 people who were at the briefing were told to self-monitor for symptoms.

Moe tweeted that he was feeling fine and would self-isolate at home for the next few days.

The province's mask rule says that people can remove their face coverings when addressing congregants in places of worship, speaking at a media appearance or recording video for film and television — as long as safety protocols are in place.

"In the past it wasn't a concern, but we'll have to see if it's an issue with Omicron," Shahab said Thursday.

The setting, ventilation and physical distancing need to be considered should there be a change to the order, he said.

"We have to recognize throughout Canada, governments, when they address the media ... masks are removed," Shahab said.

"But I think it's definitely worth revisiting."

Shahab, who wore an N95 mask at all times during the briefing, said he's confident it will keep him protected and encouraged everyone to upgrade their masks.

"If you have noticed, I always keep my mask on," he said. "In the past it was to make a point that whatever profession we are in — education, health-care — a mask really is not an impediment for the most part in effective communication."

Shahab said he will take a rapid test three, five and seven days following the possible exposure and recommended those who were also in the room do the same.

The government said Moe's last negative result, through routine testing, was Sunday evening, one day before he attended Ducharme Elementary School in La Loche, Sask., with Education Minister Dustin Duncan to make a funding announcement.

Both politicians were unmasked at times during the announcement.

Those who attended the event, including elementary school students, are not deemed to have been close contacts of Moe.

"The current time frame for close contacts identified by public health is 48 hours," Julie Leggott, deputy chief of staff to Moe, said in a statement.

Leggott said all members of the legislature, including Duncan, routinely self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms and follow all protocols should they test positive. That would include notifying all close contacts and self-isolating for the required time.

Shahab said the 48-hour window is precautionary and does not necessarily mean someone you've been in contact with was infectious two days earlier. But with the highly contagious Omicron variant, everyone should assume they've been exposed, he said.

"We should really behave as if every time we're outside the house, we are in contact risk of exposure and we need to be conscious of that and manage accordingly."

He recommended people stay home when sick, wear their best mask and take rapid tests at home.

Politicians across Canada were quick to offer supportive words to the Saskatchewan premier.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted: "Sorry to hear that, Scott. Glad you’re feeling fine."

Conservative Party Leader Erin O'Toole wished Moe "all the best," while Saskatchewan and Alberta NDP leaders, Ryan Meili and Rachel Notley, wished him a speedy recovery.

Moe and Shahab have both indicated they are vaccinated against COVID-19 and have had their booster shots.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 13, 2022.

Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

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