REGINA -- Overcrowded living conditions and non-compliance with the province’s public health measures is playing a part in the high COVID-19 case numbers in Northern Saskatchewan.

"Overall, what is really driving the current infections are multiple small gatherings — the wakes, the funerals — and also socialization between households," Dr. Nnamdi Ndubuka, medical health officer with the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority (NITHA), said.

Saskatchewan is Canada’s COVID-19 hotbed at the moment with the highest number active cases per capita in the country at 351, which is 71 more than the next closest province, Alberta.

The majority of Saskatchewan current active cases are situated in the northern portion of the province. The Saskatoon, North and Far North regions account for 72 per cent of the province’s active cases.

On Monday, 219 out of 290 new cases were in the Saskatoon, North and Far North regions.

High test positivity rates in the North and Far North regions are also putting a strain on the health systems in the remote areas of the province.

"The high case rate is leading to a lot of workload for the different health teams on and off reserves here in the north," Dr. Ndubuka said. "It’s also having the potential for staff burnout and the contact tracing capacity is almost being overstressed."

Infectious disease expert Jason Kindrachuk, who is an assistant professor of viral pathogenesis and Canada Research Chair in emerging viruses with the University of Manitoba, said it isn’t surprising to see the virus spreading through the north portion of the province.

"There is this proclivity for [the virus] to really gain a foothold in underserved communities," he said. "Whether we see congregate living, people in lower socioeconomic standings, people that are living in isolate locations, certainly in minority groups, we have seen that there has been a disproportion effect of this virus."

On Sunday, NITHA declared an outbreak on the Black Lake First Nation, which stems from a funeral and wake held on Dec. 31-Jan. 2.

There have been 13 cases linked to the outbreak so far with more expected as public health investigations continue.

NITHA has suggested to the Ministry of Health that stronger restrictions are needed on outdoor gatherings across the province.

"Currently it’s at ten, so I think that number needs to be revised with the public health order," Dr. Ndubuka said.

NITHA would also like to see the provincial government provide more support for those who need to self-isolate, such as more emergency isolation units and sick leave pay, which it hopes will stop people from going to work when sick.