An individual in their 80s has become the third person to die from complications of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan.
In addition, Premier Scott Moe announced he would be extending the province's state of emergency by another two weeks. That comes on the heels of news that British Columbia had extended its state of emergency and that the city of Toronto had cancelled all events through the end of June.
Those were the main takeaways from Wednesday's news conference with Premier Moe, chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab, and other health officials in Regina.
As was the case Monday, Premier Moe was again in the position of having to extend condolences to "family and friends of the third Saskatchewan resident who has now lost their life to COVID-19."
"Saskatchewan's hearts and thoughts are with you at this time," said Moe.
Premier Moe then went on to announce the extension of the state of emergency. All measures announced will continue, including the ones limiting gatherings to ten people.
"These measures, I would say, are working. They are working because the people of Saskatchewan, each and every one of you, are doing your part."
But the premier noted there was still a long road ahead. When asked later when restrictions would be lifted, Moe said he was hesitant to put a date on it.
"Things are moving very rapidly," said Moe.
CASES CONTINUE TO CLIMB
In total, Saskatchewan reported nine new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday for an overall provincial total to 193.
Four are in hospital: three are receiving inpatient care in Saskatoon while one person is in intensive care in Regina.
There have been some adjustments made to the reporting of cases. The province says that to provide clarity regarding transmission, cases will be categorized by travel, community contact (including household contacts and mass gatherings) and unknown exposures.
According to this new criteria, 87 cases reported are from travellers, 41 are community contacts mostly through group events, and eight have no known exposures. Fifty-seven cases are under investigation by local public health.
A total of 24 cases are now linked to the Christopher Lake snowmobile rally dinner of March 14.
The expectation is that the numbers of cases through local transmission will continue to go up.
"We do expect more cases to be labelled local transmission without a known source of exposure," said Dr. Shahab. "I think that's really important for us to remember that now its not just due to travel. We really need to accept that we have COVID-19 now as a risk in Saskatchewan and we need to redouble our efforts to protect ourselves, to protect those who are more vulnerable and really keep the curve as flat as possible."
Regarding age ranges, six cases involve people 19 years of age and under, 87 are 20-44; 69 are 45-64 and 31 are 65-plus.
The breakdown by gender is 55-45 percent males-females.
A total of 30 people have recovered from COVID-19, up an additional nine as of Wednesday.
A total of 10,528 COVID-19 tests have been performed in the province to date, with the province reporting that Saskatchewan has the second highest rate of testing per capita among the provinces.
TRANSPARENCY OF LOCATIONS AN ISSUE
The regional breakdown throughout the province shows 94 cases from the Saskatoon area, 43 from Regina, 37 from the north, nine from the central, seven from the south and three from the far north. The “north” is the region that includes the Battlefords area; those numbers have been unchanged for the last couple of days.
Dr. Shahab was asked a couple of times in the news conference if he would reconsider the idea of reporting cases by community instead of on a regional basis. This follows on comments by family of Battlefords-area resident Alice Grove who died on the weekend of COVID-19, who have spoken out for more reporting of specific locations of cases.
But Dr. Shahab did not appear willing to change his stance on the issue. Instead he said it was essential for those with any symptoms to stay at home to break the chains of transmission.
"If you take any geographic region where (there is) six communities, one has a case and five do not, does that mean the risk is higher in that one community? Absolutely not, because the risk actually is throughout Saskatchewan."
When asked again later in the news conference if the province would ever release more details on the locations of cases, Dr. Shahab reiterated his stance.
"If there was a community with no cases, does that mean that I shall not practice physical distancing or social distancing? Absolutely not. Does that mean people are free to mix among households there? Absolutely not. I think you cannot rely on community test-positive numbers to dictate our actions."
Premier Moe agreed with Dr. Shahab's point.
"We should be in our everyday action, we should be operating under the assumption that the community that we live in does have people in it that have tested positive for COVID-19," said Premier Moe. "We should also act under the assumption that there are people who have not been tested yet that do have COVID-19, in the way that we do not only our social distancing but our physical distancing from one another.'
But the premier seemed open to a more flexible stance on reporting cases in the province, particularly referencing correctional facilities and those among health care workers.
"We will be endeavouring to continue be as transparent as possible with the reporting that we are providing," said Moe. "I would just ask again to continue to be gracious with us and help us a bit... and we will be straight with you about what we can provide and what we feel we might need a little bit more time to provide."
MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORTS
The province also took time at the news conference Wednesday to speak on a number of mental health services and supports available to Saskatchewan to people at this time.
Moe said all Saskatchewan Health Authority mental health inpatient units for adults, children and youth remain open for admissions as needed. Community mental health sites remain open, offering most services by phone.
"Family Service Saskatchewan, in partnership with the SHA, supports 23 mental health walk-in clinics that are now offering services by telephone in communities across the province," said Moe.
Other supports Moe pointed to, as outlined in a provincial news release, include the following:
The Farm Stress Line (https://www.saskatchewan.ca/business/agriculture-natural-resources-and-industry/agribusiness-farmers-and-ranchers/programs-and-services/farm-stress-line) provides support for farmers and ranchers and is available 24 hours per day, seven days per week. To get help, call 1-800-667-4442.
The Kids Help Phone (https://kidshelpphone.ca/) offers professional counselling, information and referrals by phone, text or online chat. It's confidential, free and Is available 24/7.
Mobile Crisis centres (http://www.mobilecrisis.ca/mobile-crisis-helpline/) centres are located across Saskatchewan and operate 24/7.
Employee and Family Assistance Programs can assist with mental health supports and counselling for qualifying employees and their dependents.
The Ministry of Education continues to offer Mental Health Capacity Building support for staff and students in five schools during school closures, through online and social media platforms.
The Ministry of Social Services staff are supporting clients, service providers and Approved Private Service Homes. All CBO agencies continue to offer counselling by phone or virtual technology.
Indigenous Services Canada Mental Health Therapists are available by phone or Telehealth to residents of First Nations communities.