Saskatchewan reported 168 new cases of COVID-19 and two more deaths on Thursday.
One of the people who died was in their 40s in the north central zone and the other was in their 70s in the central east zone.
The new cases reported Thursday were as follows:
Far northwest, two.
Far northeast, three.
North central, two.
Saskatoon region, 25.
Central west, three.
Central east, 19.
Regina region, 70.
South central, 11.
Five new cases are pending residence information.
As of Wednesday, there were 1,064 variants of concern identified through screening in Saskatchewan.
Previously, the province reported these as "presumptive positives," but now all screening tests are to be considered confirmed as variants of concern until identified otherwise.
One-hundred eighteen cases of COVID variants with confirmed lineage were reported in Saskatchewan Thursday. In total, the province has confirmed 478 cases of variants of concern through whole genome sequencing, 84 per cent of which are in Regina.
Wednesday's update clarified that the variant cases identified through screening and the cases with confirmed lineage should not be added together to find a "total" number of variant cases, as some may appear in both groups.
There are 154 people in Saskatchewan hospitals with COVID-19, of which 22 are in intensive care: six in Saskatoon, two in the central east, one in the south central and 12 in Regina.
Saskatchewan reported 1,623 known active cases of COVID-19 on Thursday. The seven-day daily average of new cases sits at 181, or 14.7 new cases per 100,000.
The province said more than two-thirds of people older than 80 had received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccines as of Wednesday, while more than 30 per cent of residents in their 70s had received their first dose. Meanwhile, 90 per cent of long term care home residents have received their first dose and 62 per cent are fully vaccinated, the province said.
An additional 4,247 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered as of Thursday's update.
People aged 62 and older living anywhere in the province are now eligible to book their vaccine appointment online or by phone.
Increased drive-thru testing in Regina
With COVID-19 variant of concern (VOC) cases rising in Regina, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) is expanding its efforts to keep residents safe. As of Thursday, Regina's drive-thru COVID-19 test site has expanded its hours. The site will now open at 11:30 a.m. CST and close at 9 p.m. CST.
Currently, the drive-thru testing site is experiencing longer than expected waits as more people go to get tested. While the site operates on a first-come, first-served basis, and wait times vary in length, the SHA says some people are waiting more than three hours for their test.
In the days ahead, the SHA says the testing site's operating hours will continue to increase, first to 12 hours a day then to 16 hours a day, to meet the increased demand.
Scott Livingstone, SHA CEO, spoke about the changes to the drive-thru testing site during a news conference on Thursday. He said the SHA knows there have been long wait times and high demand at the Regina site and that's why they're working to expand the services and hours.
"Over the last three days, we've exceeded the capacity of the drive-thru. And that's why we're increasing capacity immediately to deal with those volumes," Livingstone said.
"We are asking everyone who attends a drive-thru to be kind to each other and respectful to our staff at all times," Livingstone said. "They are working as hard and as fast as possible to get you through that testing line."
Livingstone said the SHA is also working to revamp who is sent to the drive-thru site and who is booked into a COVID-19 test appointment.
Those going to get tested at the drive-thru are asked to bring a valid form of identification, preferably a Saskatchewan Health Card, for everyone in the car getting tested and to wear a mask during the registration process.
Travel to and from the Regina area not recommended
Earlier this week, the Saskatchewan government also issued a travel advisory for Regina and the surrounding areas.Travel is not recommended in or out of the region "unless absolutely necessary," the government said in a news release on Tuesday.
However, SHA has clarified that those recommendations do not apply to people travelling for essential reasons, including those going to medical appointments, getting medical care or getting or receiving compassionate care.
"Residents are reminded of the importance of continuing to go to medical appointments and receiving medical care when necessary," the SHA said in a Thursday news release.
According to the SHA, compassionate care can include situations such as family or support people being present during end-of-life care or after a major surgery. However, these caregivers will need to undergo a health screening and wear a medical-grade mask while inside the home or facility.
Regina long-term care homes are also restricting family visits, except for palliative or end-of-life situations when approved by the care team. Those restrictions will be reviewed and re-evaluated on April 6.
When people are travelling in or out of the Regina area for essential reasons, the SHA recommends not making any other stops or visits beyond the purpose of their trip.