Dr. Shahab cites importance of keeping transmission rates low as fall approaches

The transmission rate for COVID-19 remains low in the province after the first week back at school, and that has reassured the province’s chief medical health officer.

At a news conference in Regina, Dr. Saqib Shahab congratulated students teachers and staff “for a very successful return to school this week.”

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This comes after the latest low numbers reported Thursday, with six new cases of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan as well as six recoveries, for a total of 59 active cases.

Dr. Shahab called the return to school a “significant undertaking” and while he acknowledged there has been a lot of concerns, he noted the low community transmission “has really supported a safe school reopening.”

Dr. Shahab said it underlines why keeping community transmission rates low is essential to schools, other industries and other settings as well.

Dr. Shahab also spoke of mask use being an “important layer of protection” in schools and “one of the many layers that we must continue to practice in the fall and winter,” as well as physical distancing, washing hands and staying home when sick.

He said they would continue to work with colleagues not just in Saskatchewan but across Canada and globally to further understand what the issues are with COVID-19 transmission at the community level and within schools. He acknowledged COVID-19 numbers have gone up in other provinces and many parts of the world. “Thankfully we haven’t seen that in Saskatchewan but we always need to continue to understand why transmission picks up and what measures we need to take proactively to prevent that from happening in Saskatchewan.”

Dr. Shahab also said “we need to recognize this is not forever.”

“We are entering our first fall and winter in a pandemic and hopefully we will be in a different place by spring and summer.“

He said we can see from other jurisdictions it did not take much for numbers to increase significantly. Dr. Shahab urged people to continue doing what they were doing to keep case numbers low to support school reopening, people going back to work, and all the other sectors of the economy.

In speaking to reporters, Dr. Shahab noted they would continue to watch on a week by week basis what proportion of new cases is linked to interprovincial travel or international travel, and what portion is linked to specific activities.

He noted there were occasional cases over the past few months linked to restaurants and bars but “nothing consistent,” and said that speaks to businesses and customers following the guidelines that are there.

Officials were also asked about the recent case at a long-term care facility, Parkridge Centre in Saskatoon.

Dr. Shahab also noted that the province had been successful in preventing the virus from settings where people are more vulnerable. He said they will need to continue to monitor this as long as they were in the pandemic.

Dr. Scott Livingstone, president of Saskatchewan Health Authority, said there were protocols for enhanced cleaning and also further isolation of residents, as well as ongoing screening of other residents and staff.

Dr. Shahab was also asked about the larger number of public health alerts about exposures at businesses. He noted while the public service announcements are more frequent, as an extra layer of providing information, they have not really seen transmission in those settings.

“Transmission really happens in closed face to face contact, less than two metres, that happens for the most part in our personal gatherings or in a workplace, where we aren’t maintaining that physical distance,” said Dr. Shahab. “I think that’s where we need to continue to do what we have been doing to keep transmission low.”

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