Saskatchewan sees more COVID-19 cases, theft of hospital supplies

REGINA — Saskatchewan announced nine new cases of the novel coronavirus on Friday, bringing its total to 104, including two staff at a Saskatoon jail.

The Ministry of Corrections and Policing said the two workers at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre have been told to self-isolate at home while public health officials trace their contacts.

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A spokesman said no inmates had tested positive for COVID-19, but one unit was under quarantine due to what's believed to be another illness.

Bob Bymoen, president of the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union, said increased testing for corrections workers, deputy sheriffs and inmates is needed.

The government said restrictions have been placed on the movement of inmates, programs have been suspended and more thorough cleaning protocols are being followed.

Premier Scott Moe has also said the province is looking at options for how to handle provincial inmates during the pandemic, but nothing has been decided.

Some advocacy groups have called for non-violent inmates to be released, but Saskatchewan Justice Minister Don Morgan said there isn't a plan for that.

The Ministry of Health says about 7,500 tests have been performed in the province so far.

Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shaha said tests need to be conserved for those who really need them — anyone with a cough and fever and health-care workers with symptoms.

"At this point we are not short on testing supplies ... but we do know that this situation is going to continue for several weeks to months," he said.

Not every case will be able to get tested, Shahab said.

Also Friday, the Saskatchewan Health Authority said some masks, gowns and shields used by doctors and nurses are possibly being stolen from some facilities.

CEO Scott Livingstone issued a warning about the disappearing equipment in a letter to staff and volunteers.

Over the last few weeks, he said, facilities have been receiving up to five times their normal supply of personal protective equipment — but it wasn't found on wards.

He told a news conference that he believes some staff are involved in the thefts.

"There could be patients, could be physicians, it could be anybody who comes into our facilities."

The health authority is investigating, Livingstone said, and has locked up equipment instead of keeping it in open carts.

"I get that there's lots of fear out there. There's fear in the public. There's fear, of course, in our health-care workers.

"But if that (personal protective equipment) isn't available when people need it to properly care for COVID-19 patients, they're putting people's lives at risk."

Tracy Zambory, president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses, said she has heard from members about supplies being stolen.

"It boils down to people being afraid," she said. "It really is only going to make matters worse if it continues."

She said registered nurses are having to ration supplies and their use of personal protective equipment is under scrutiny.

They are concerned about the lack of protective equipment, especially N95 respirator masks, Zambory said.

"While the SHA has placed its own supply orders totalling $4.1 million, including for N95 masks, we must have contingency plans in place," a health authority spokeswoman said in a statement.

"We know that globally suppliers have adopted an equitable distribution strategy, which means not all orders will be filled as requested."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 27, 2020

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