Northern municipalities concerned over loss of daily local COVID-19 updates

Northern Saskatchewan community leaders are upset that health officials are no longer sharing daily reports of how many confirmed cases of COVID-19 are in their communities.

Pinehouse Mayor Mike Natomagan, whose community is emerging from a widespread outbreak earlier this month, said he needs those figures to plan a response and keep the community informed. He said Pinehouse currently receives reports on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

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"We just don't want to work blind here," Natomagan said. "We like to know on a daily basis what we're up against."

The Saskatchewan Health Authority's vice-president of integrated northern health, Andrew McLetchie, said the far north was the only place in the province where leaders received such regular reports about COVID-19 transmission in their communities.

The SHA chose to stop that service around the new year because it couldn't continue without affecting other services, he said.

"Really, this came down to the ability to do it daily, on a regular basis. And ultimately, we just were not able to do that without impacting care that we needed to provide to people across the far north."

As of Jan. 22, the province reports that the far north west has 259 cases of COVID-19, the far north central has 69, and the far north east has 179. On a per-capita basis, those are some of the highest rates of COVID-19 in the province.

Natomagan said the north's lack of resources makes it more vulnerable. He's asked Health Minister Paul Merriman and Government Relations Minister Don McMorris to provide the capacity for more regular reports.

Natomagan said he hasn't received a response to the request.

Buffalo Narrows Mayor Robert Woods said the numbers are needed for northern communities facing an uptick in cases so leaders can inform residents accordingly. He's worried the loss of daily, locally-specific information will hold those efforts back.

"It doesn't help if we don't know what we need to be prepared for," he said.

McLetchie said the SHA is considering other avenues to keep leaders in the loop, such as town halls. He also said the daily number updates could be misleading "because there's often people in the community who are positive but haven't been tested yet."

La Loche Mayor Georgina Jolibois, whose community was hit hard by COVID-19 in April and continues to see new cases, said daily information is key for warning residents.

"If we're on the increase, we need to know that."

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