Sask. chief medical health officer issues cautions about public outdoor spaces for most self-isolating

On March 20, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said a 14-day period of self-isolation was mandatory for any travellers, including people returning from the United States, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread. Anyone caught breaking the rules could be fined $2,000.

However, there seems to be some confusion about what self-isolation means and what people are allowed to do.

Here is some clarification from the Ministry of Health and Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer:

What's the difference between social distancing and self-isolation?

If you are not experiencing any symptoms, haven't travelled out of the country recently, and have not been exposed to people diagnosed with or showing symptoms of COVID-19, you can practise social distancing.

That means staying two metres or six feet from anyone outside your household. For example, you can go for a walk or a bicycle ride but you're avoiding congregating with people.

"You can walk closely with your household members because you are together anyway," Shahab said at a news conference Monday. "But obviously keep that physical distance with friends and neighbours who you meet, and wave from six feet distance. That way there is no risk."

You should also still avoid being out and about unnecessarily, such as multiple visits to businesses.

What if you have to self-isolate but you aren't showing symptoms?

For those who are required to do the 14-day self-isolation post-travel but who aren't showing symptoms, the provincial Ministry of Health recommends staying at home and avoiding any situation that could spread COVID-19.

That means staying away from large groups of people, including work, public areas, restaurants, malls and places of worship.

People who have the virus that causes COVID-19 may not show symptoms and still be infective.

Health officials say self-isolation includes forgoing any trips to the grocery store and rescheduling non-urgent appointments.

Don't take buses, taxis or ride-sharing and do not have visitors in your home.

 

I think we all need to be very cautious. - Dr. Saqib Shahab

 

"You should have shopping or other things delivered to your doorstep and then pick that up afterwards," said Shahab.

If you are self-isolating and asymptomatic you can still go for walk as long as you absolutely maintain the two-metre distance from others. Shahab insists on proper hand hygiene and avoiding contact with shared surfaces, like pedestrian crosswalk buttons or playground equipment. You'll also want to avoid tight shared spaces like elevators or apartment common areas.

If people need to leave the house due to an emergency, the province advises people wear a surgical mask while they are out.

What if I'm in contact with others who are self-isolating?

Shahab said people who have been in close contact — within one metre — of a person who is self-isolating should also stay indoors.

As long as people who have come in contact with someone self-isolating, "they can go to the backyard — if they live in a rural area they can obviously go on a solitary walk. It is challenging if you live in an apartment building where you may have [to] go down an elevator or down stairs. It is very challenging, but we suggest that you minimize any going outdoors if you are a close contact or returning traveller in that setting."

He said people may not be showing symptoms, but still be very infectious.

"I think we all need to be very cautious," Shahab said last week.

What if you're showing symptoms or someone in your house is?

Shahab said rules are even more strict for those who might be sick.

He recommended those feeling ill should stay inside their room and avoid travelling to other areas of the house, if possible.

People with even mild symptoms of a cough or who are awaiting test results should also self-isolate indoors to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"If you have mild symptoms, then you touch a doorknob or an elevator and someone else then touches the doorknob and then their eyes, nose or mouth — those are all all known ways of transmission."

He says an infectious person even taking a walk outside can still be dangerous. 

As well, the Ministry of Health advises vulnerable people in the home (pregnant women, babies, people with suppressed immune systems) find somewhere else to live if they are staying with someone with COVID-19.

What if you or someone in your home has tested positive?

The province has mandated anyone within close contact of a COVID-19 patient must self-isolate as well.

Close contact includes people who care for people who live with or had close prolonged contact with a patient who was symptomatic, or someone who was coughed or sneezed on.

Those people have to self-isolate for 14 days from the time of exposure.

This would not apply to anyone who was using personal protective equipment or a person who was not within two metres of a person who is self-isolating.