Saskatchewan shrinks private gathering size to 15 people as COVID-19 cases climb

REGINA — New household gathering limits are to come into effect on Friday in Saskatchewan, where COVID-19 infections continue to grow.

The province's chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, told a news conference Tuesday that gatherings in private residences are to be restricted to a maximum of 15 people, down from 30.

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More than 160 new infections were reported in the province over the long weekend, with many linked to gatherings, Shahab said.

"Public health's contact investigations are also having a harder time confirming the source of transmission, because of the larger numbers of contacts that people are having," he said.

In recent days, the Saskatchewan Health Authority has issued potential exposure alerts for several businesses in different cities.

They include a lumber store in Prince Albert, where Saskatchewan Party Leader Scott Moe and other candidates campaigned in recent weeks, as well as two bars in Saskatoon.

Last week, the health authority also declared an outbreak linked to different church events that was affecting multiple communities.

Shahab said the smaller gathering limit won't apply to public places, like bars and restaurants, or to religious gatherings, banquet halls and weddings.

"While nothing is 100 per cent safe, we have seen that for the most part that restaurants, bars, gyms ... places of worship have not resulted in large transmission events."

Shahab did, however, say some transmission has happened in what he called poorly organized gatherings, which have resulted in fines against organizers.

On Tuesday, officials reported 34 new cases and 238 active infections. Nine people were in hospital, while another 1,911 people have recovered from the illness.

While the province has seen case numbers rise and fall over the past seven months of the pandemic, Shahab said it's different this time around because schools have reopened and spikes in other parts of Canada may be affecting Saskatchewan through travel.

He also said more than half of the new cases in the last week have been linked to public and private gatherings, while some infections have no known source of exposure.

"Everyone was very diligent (in) April, May. I think there was a bit of relaxation in the summer, but that was fine because our case numbers were low. We could be outdoors more," Shahab said.

"Now is the time to kind of really pay attention again."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 13, 2020

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