With 56 COVID-19 cases discovered in southwest and west central Saskatchewan last weekend, the opposition New Democrats want the province to reverse its decision to not report case numbers on weekends.
On July 13 Health Minister Jim Reiter announced there had been two new cases of COVID-19 on July 11, 23 on July 12 and 31 on July 13.
In recent weeks, most announcements of new cases were in the single digits.
The daily mid-afternoon briefings on the status of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan have become a fixture in this province since mid-March, usually featuring Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab, and often Premier Scott Moe or Scott Livingstone, CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority. By mid-July, these daily press conferences were being scaled back considerably.
Those briefings, which took place for most of the last four months, announced the daily new case count, which region of the province they were, and recoveries from COVID-19. An update on testing numbers would also be included. That structure has changed
“The Government of Saskatchewan issues COVID-19 updates through news releases on weekdays. Saskatchewan Health Authority press conferences are held on Tuesday afternoons and Ministry of Health press conferences are held on Thursday afternoons,” said an email from a health ministry spokesperson on July 13.
“Additional press conferences may be held on other days when there are major developments to share with the public, and this schedule is often subject to change. These press conferences give reporters the chance to ask questions of senior health officials and helps ensure residents are kept informed of Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 case numbers and have the information they need to stay as safe as possible.”
On Monday, July 13, there was indeed a full-scale briefing, with Health Minister Jim Reiter, Dr. Shahab and SHA CEO Scott Livingstone joining on the phone.
The release on July 13 also had substantially more detail regarding locations affected that had had been generally released in the past. It listed the Rural Municipalities of Maple Creek, Auvergne, Biggar, Carmichael, Eagle Creek, Harris, Lac Pelletier, Newcombe, Perdue, Kellross and Prairiedale.
Previous outbreaks had listed La Loche, Lloydminster, and two Hutterite colonies in the RM of Maple Creek.
NDP calls for more detail
Ryan Meili, the Saskatchewan NDP leader who resumed his medical practice as a physician part-time to assist with the COVID-19 crisis, said the government has not been providing enough information to the people of Saskatchewan, and it should.
“As we increase the number of cases of 56 cases over the last three days, a doubling of the active cases of COVID-19 is really concerning information. It's also really concerning the ways that we're learning about three days where, and in fairly significant spike in the number of cases and the distribution of that cases throughout Saskatchewan. We're learning about this after the fact.”
The leader said he sees a pattern from the provincial government, where the province was slow to act with the outbreak in La Loche and slow to reveal the outbreak at the Lloydminster hospital.
“Now, we've got this situation and a series of outbreaks throughout the province, a high number of new cases and information coming out, days later, it's not the right away,” he said.
“The default with this government and with Minister Reiter, in particular, in his direction of the Ministry of Health has been towards decreasing the information available to the public as the opposite of what we need to be doing.”
Meili said the default needs to be sharing as much information as possible.
“That is our call today. Stop the cancellation of giving us case numbers on the weekend and holidays. If we get a big spike on weekends and holidays, people need to know this information. [It] helps people make decisions,” he said.
“Stop going back to our going down to only one press briefing week. Let's keep the daily briefings up. Let's keep the access to information, especially now, as we're out of session.”
The NDP leader said this time, the province decided to reveal which RMs were involved in the outbreak, something he’d like to see the province continue.
“I think there's some real inconsistency in what the minister has been allowing to come out, thus far,” Meili said. “The message has always been, ‘Well, nobody needs that information and won't change your behavior. Everybody should be doing the same things.’
“But then today, we've got this level and the suggestion that maybe it should change people's behavior in those communities. It's got to be one or the other. And frankly, I think we should trust the people of Saskatchewan with more information,” he said, adding people still should be taking precautions no matter where they are.