Several Sask. bars served with warnings and fines over COVID-19 rules, top doc says

·3 min read

Saskatchewan health officials have recently issued warning letters and fines to several bars where COVID-19 public health guidelines were not being followed, the province's top doctor says.

While most business owners and patrons are complying, that's not the case everywhere, said Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer.

"There's mingling among tables. That's resulting in outbreaks," Shahab said during the province's latest COVID-19 news conference on Tuesday.

"Unless all of us pull together, [COVID-19] comes back with a vengeance."

23 infections linked to Crackers outbreak

Shahab's comments came two days after the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) warned that Crackers, a bar in Saskatoon's north end, might be a COVID-19 superspreader after 16 people became infected.

By Tuesday, the number of infections associated with Crackers had risen to 23, according to the SHA.

Shahab did not cite any specific businesses when talking about fines and warnings, keeping with the health ministry's past practice of withholding the names of fined businesses.

However, no statements about businesses being fined and the amounts they've been ordered to pay have been included in the province's daily COVID-19 reports in recent weeks — unlike the fall, when several fines were publicly reported. One such fine went to a gospel outreach centre where singers went unmasked.

Videos show 'Fall Karaoke League'

The SHA has previously told CBC News that karaoke was not a risk factor in the Crackers outbreak reported on Sunday.

Singing events appear to have occurred at Crackers in the fall, according to its website, which includes a message about sanitizing mics as well as video montages with titles such as "Fall Karaoke League Thursday Halloween 2020" showing some unmasked singers.

"If you are sick or have an elevated temperature, please stay home," the message on the bar's homepage stated. "Sorry, no instruments, stand up comedians or magicians......and no mimes."

Karaoke was prohibited in restaurants and bars in the Re-Open Saskatchewan plan released last May, although live performances were allowed provided there was physical distancing. Singers were required to wear masks.

"Singing and shouting can spread droplets further than regular conversation, so they present an increased risk," the province warned.

No more than six people were allowed per table — a rule underscored again (alongside the continued ban on karaoke) on Oct. 28 when the province announced tighter guidelines for Saskatoon bars that went into effect on Oct. 30.

Crackers website
Crackers website

On Tuesday, the SHA said it's reviewing what Crackers did to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

"Saskatchewan Health Authority environmental public health officials do both routine inspections and inspections after a complaint," an SHA spokesperson said. "As part of the inspection process, our inspectors will work with businesses such as bars and restaurants to review their protocols and practices regarding the public health orders in place during the pandemic.

"The goal is to assist businesses owners and their staff to protect the public and themselves. If there continues to be concerns about a business not following public health orders, enforcement action would be taken."

The owners of Crackers could not be reached for comment.