Here are the top stories from the first 6 months of COVID-19 in Sask.
REGINA -- It has been six months since the first case of COVID-19 came to Saskatchewan on March 12.
Throughout the past half-year, outbreaks of the virus have made their way throughout various regions of Saskatchewan. The province has seen two major spikes in cases, even having the highest COVID-19 cases per capita in Canada at the end of July.
However, by the end of August, it had the lowest number of active cases per capita in western Canada.
Since then, active cases have fluctuated, remaining below 100. As of Sept. 12, 83 cases are considered active.
Here’s a look back at the past six months of pandemic storylines in Saskatchewan.
FAR NORTH OUTBREAK
The province declared an outbreak in La Loche on April 17, as the community saw some of the highest rises in cases Saskatchewan had seen at that point.
At its peak on May 10, the far north region accounted for 156 active cases; just under 75 per cent of the province’s active cases at the time.
Public Health restricted travel to the region on April 24 and implemented further measures one week later on April 30.
By mid-May, cases began to fall in some areas of the far north region and the province relaxed restrictions for some communities.
While the rest of the province began to reopen throughout the spring, progress in areas in the north west were slowed until case numbers lowered. The area caught up with the rest of the province’s reopening on July 24.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe announced the province's plan to reopen the economy, addressing the province on April 22,
“Our government takes this decision extremely seriously,” Moe said. “We know there are risks on both sides. If we move too quickly, we risk increasing the spread of COVID-19. If we move too slowly, we risk permanent damage to the livelihoods of thousands of Saskatchewan people,” Moe said, during his address.
Premier Scott Moe addresses Saskatchewan on April 22, 2020.
The next day, Moe and Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province’s Chief Medical Health Officer, outlined the five-phase plan, set to begin on May 4.
The first phase, brought back some medical services along with some low-risk recreational activities.
The subsequent phases of the plan proceeded in Saskatchewan throughout the spring and early summer.
- Phase Two: Hair stylists, barber shops, massage therapists, farmers’ markets, retail stores and malls opened for business on May 19.
- Phase Three: Restaurants, gyms, daycares places of worship and other personal services were permitted to open on June 8.
- Phase Four Part One: Youth and child day camps, outdoor pools, splash pads and outdoor activities resumed in the first half of phase four.
- Phase Four Part Two: Museums, libraries, galleries, movie theatres and live theatres were permitted to reopen. Indoor pools, rinks, sports, casinos and bingo halls opened up in the following weeks.
Speaking on September 2, Moe said the province is not currently considering moving into Phase Five of the Reopen Saskatchewan Plan any time soon.
“There has been some of those discussions specific to different venues, different events, but as far as moving into an, essentially a mass level five, 'lets have large events again,' there is no discussion about that at this point in time,” Moe said.
By the end of March, students in schools across Saskatchewan were sent home in an attempt to limit transmission of the virus.
Saskatchewan schools were closed indefinitely on March 20, one week after the province saw its first case of COVID-19.
"This is a time for us to stay at home unless it's absolutely necessary," Moe said.
Premier Moe announced a “wind down” period taking place from March 16 to 19, giving parents and guardians time to organize child care if needed.
On May 7, the Government of Saskatchewan announced schools would remain closed for the rest of the 2019-20 school year. Learning remained online, with teachers providing supplemental classes until the end of June.
Gordon Wyant, Saskatchewan’s Education Minister, announced a return to in-person classes, in a press conference on June 9.
The province then revealed its Safe Schools plan in early August. School was scheduled to start as early as Sept. 1, depending on the school division.
However, the government pushed the first day of school back to Sept. 8, just over two weeks before classes were scheduled to begin.
“Today, we are acting by providing more information, more time, more testing and more resources to ensure a safe return to school in September,” Moe said in a news release.
Students, teachers and staff returned for class after Labour Day, with numerous restrictions in place in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus within schools.
Students and teachers returned to classrooms 172 days after the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered schools in the province. (Marc Smith/CTV Regina)
SPIKE IN THE SOUTH
After a couple months of very few isolated outbreaks throughout Saskatchewan, the province saw its second spike in cases as transmission of the virus rose in the south and central regions.
A COVID-19 outbreak was declared on two Hutterite Colonies in the R.M. of Maple Creek on June 17.
Two cases were initially identified, and another 14 were confirmed the day of the alert. The SHA said the cases were linked to interprovincial travel to Alberta, as well as in the area.
Local health officials began a large investigation throughout the southwest, conducting contact tracing and testing on several colonies in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The government did not impose restrictions in these areas, but worked with local leadership to develop self imposed guidelines.
“Those powers are there and they will be used if it is required in certain areas of the province,” Moe said. “In saying that, it is always better to work with the local leaders on how we can contain this spread.”
While communities throughout south Saskatchewan continued to deal with higher case numbers throughout the end of June, cases began to spike in mid-July.
The province attributed a surge of 56 COVID-19 cases reported over the weekend of July 11-12, to previously reported cases that had then spread throughout the south west and west central areas of the province.
The SHA implemented increased contact tracing and testing in the affected areas.
“We’d all hoped that we were through the most difficult phase of COVID-19, and with everything reopening, no one wants to take a step back, but there is now increased risk in south west and west central Saskatchewan,” Warren Kaeding, the Minister of Rural and Remote Health, said in a press conference on July 16.
The following week, the government warned of increased transmission risk in several areas in south west and west central Saskatchewan.
Signs are seen in the front window of Great West Auto Electric (Bumper to Bumper) in Swift Current. Many businesses in the city are taking extra precautions after multiple people who tested positive for COVID-19 visited various businesses. (Stefanie Davis/CTV News)
The province saw its highest single day rise in cases, adding 60 new cases on July 22, with 50 of those in the south region.
Saskatchewan hit its record high for active cases on July 29, reaching 322. A total of 143 of those active cases were from the south region.
Since that peak, cases began to decline in the province as recovery numbers began to accumulate.
Cases remained on some Hutterite colonies, however, in a tweet on August 16, Moe said the efforts to curb the virus among Hutterites were working, and there was reason for optimism.
As of September 11, the province said 19 active cases were found in communal living settings. Case numbers have returned to average in the south region, currently accounting for nine total active cases.
THE GOVERNMENT OF SASKATCHEWAN
The Saskatchewan Government returned to the Legislature on June 15 for an unprecedented three week sitting.
Members of Legislature returned for a short 3 week sitting on June 15 in Saskatchewan. (Gareth Dillistone / CTV News Regina)
The main goal of the sitting for the province was to release the provincial budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year. It was scheduled to be presented in March, but was delayed due to the economic instability caused by COVID-19 around the world.
The updated provincial budget forecasted a $2.4 billion deficit, with projected revenues down $1.2 billion as a result of the virus and the collapse of oil prices.
Donna Harpauer, the Minister of Finance, presented a fiscal update in August, projecting a slightly lower deficit. The province is now forecasting a $2.1 billion deficit.
The deficit decrease is fueled by a projected increase in revenue for the year, largely due to $338 million in federal funding, as part of the federal-provincial Safe Restart Agreement.
In a Tweet thread on Saturday, Premier Scott Moe acknowledged the half-year anniversary of the virus arriving in Saskatchewan.
He said the province’s rate of positive cases is 60 per cent below the national average, while our fatality rate is 92 per cent below the national average.
Active cases also remain well below the national average, currently at 69 per cent of the average.
“Unfortunately, the risk has not gone away and we are seeing case numbers rising in some other provinces. As we head into the fall and start spending more time indoors, let’s keep being careful,” Moe said, in a tweet.
With files from CTV News Saskatoon and The Canadian Press