There are six new cases of COVID-19 and six more people recovered in Saskatchewan as of Saturday.
That brings the total number of reported cases to 313, of which 75 are considered active.
Saturday’s numbers include the cases in the La Loche area that Dr. Saqib Shahab called an “outbreak situation.”
Throughout the province, five people are in hospital, including one person in intensive care.
Of the 313 total number of cases, 266 have been linked to travel or mass gatherings, 29 have no known exposure and 18 are still under investigation.
So far, more than 23,000 COVID-19 tests have been performed, the second-highest test rate per capita in Canada.
Curfew in place in La Loche
After news broke that the province has its first case of COVID-19 in long-term care at a facility in La Loche, the village implemented a curfew to help combat the spread of the virus. Councillors and leaders in the community enacted the bylaw just hours after the provincial government announced a patient at the La Loche Health Centre and Hospital contracted COVID-19.
Robert St. Pierre is mayor of the remote community, which is tucked into the northwest corner of the province, roughly 600 kilometres north of Saskatoon. He says the curfew was put in place to ensure people are practicing proper physical distancing and are respecting public health orders, like those prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people.
“We want to instill in the community that, as leadership, we’re taking these matters seriously,” he said, adding that the curfew appears to be working.
“I know when we initiated the curfew and heightened our checkpoints that the community was responsible enough, and responsive, that they stayed home,” he said.
“That’s tremendous. That means a lot to everybody in the community, saying that we’re taking this seriously and we’re going to follow what has been set out by our leadership.”
The curfew, which requires La Loche residents to be inside of their homes between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., is punishable by a fine of $100 following a warning and a fine of $150 for subsequent offences.
St. Pierre said those in the community are rallying around those affected by the virus, noting they’ve been sending them messages of support over the radio and have been keeping those infected in his prayers.
“We’re here to support, not to judge,” he said.
NDP claims province failed Saskatchewan’s north
NDP MLA Buckley Belanger, who represents the Athabasca constituency where La Loche is located, claims the provincial government has failed Saskatchewan’s north in its COVID-19 response, saying leadership has been coming from those in the community, as opposed to the Ministry of Health and the province.
“They want to protect their people, they’ve made some very tough choices but everywhere they go … it seems like the province is hampering their efforts as opposed to helping,” he said.
“This is really giving way to a lot of criticism and anger that I’m now seeing among the leadership, simply because they feel that in spite of their best efforts, the province isn’t helping out at all.”
Belanger said requests from northern leaders, like closing down liquor stores in the region, have largely been ignored by the province. He feels northern leaders have not been given an adequate seat at the table when it comes to pandemic planning and he said the tension is present in the community.
“There’s a lot of anger and confusion among the population mass because they’re not getting information,” he said.
The NDP had previously raised concerns about a lack of testing in the province’s north and Belanger reiterated those concerns on Saturday, as only 444 people in Saskatchewan’s far north have been tested for COVID-19.
“How does that compare to the rest of the province?” Belanger asked.
‘We are prepared’
Rim Zayed is the medical health officer at the northern Population Health Unit in La Ronge, covering the area of far north. She says that seeing an increase in cases in the far north is expected.
“We are not isolated from the rest of the province,” she said. “However, we are prepared.”
Zayed said the unit has good communication with community leadership and has increased testing.
The unit is distributing educational materials in Dene, Cree and Michif to ensure everyone is informed, she said.
Moe’s office backs curfew
A statement sent to CBC from Premier Moe’s office said the government recognizes the unique situation many northern communities are facing when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic and is working with those on the frontline to ensure adequate response.
“We continue to work with northern communities and First Nations by providing operational support through the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency, and we are supportive of measures that northern communities are taking to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” said Moe’s office in a statement.
“This includes the Bylaw enacted by La Loche, and checkpoints that have been implemented throughout the North.”
Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Health also said in a statement that it is “actively managing the case of COVID-19” in the long-term care home, noting the government, “continues to work with northern leaders on this important issue.”
Conservative Member of Parliament for the Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River riding, Gary Vidal, said he has immense confidence that leaders in the province’s north will be able to guide their communities through to the other side of the pandemic.
However, he said after the pandemic has ended, work should be done to ensure issues around jurisdictions do not get in the way of action.
“That’s something that we can work toward … is making sure there’s improved, better communication between the different levels,” he said.
“Whether it’s the federal government and the provincial government, all the way down to the municipal leadership, the Métis leadership and the First Nations leadership, that we can work together in improved responses to stuff like this.”
For St. Pierre, he said the community is working to ensure those who have been infected by the virus have the support and supplies they need, while respecting the province’s public health orders.
“We’re coming together by staying apart,” he said.
St. Pierre said on Saturday that he has had conversations with Saskatchewan’s Minister of Government Relations, Warren Kaeding about the curfew, touching base to see how the community is doing and encouraged St. Pierre to reach out if they need further assistance.
Guidance for drive-in church services
The government has also issued guidance for religious organizations that want to conduct drive-in services. The Saskatchewan Health Authority shut down a planned Easter Sunday drive-in service last week
The province reiterated that no more than 10 people can be in the place of worship at one time and that physical distancing protocols must be followed between those people.
If an organization wants to do a drive-in service, it needs to send a proposal to local public health officials and there are several requirements it will be required to follow.
Attendees must remain in their vehicles and only people from the same household can be in any one vehicle.
Drive-in services must be in parking lots or staging areas and vehicles must be separated by at least two metres.
Access to any facility, including washrooms, is discouraged. But, if there is a washroom, it must be frequently cleaned and disinfected throughout the service. Food and drinks cannot be served and there can be no picnic areas or play areas open.
If anyone leaves their vehicle, they must practice physical distancing and anyone who is sick must stay home.