Saskatchewan’s chief medical officer has confirmed the province’s first presumptive case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Dr. Saqib Shahab said the patient, who is in their 60s, had recently travelled to Egypt.
“The province’s first case is linked to travel from a country where local transmission of COVID-19 has been reported,” Shahab said Thursday in a statement.
“This supports the expanded testing criteria of symptomatic travellers to better prepare Saskatchewan’s response to the COVID-19 event. All travellers need to monitor their symptoms for two weeks upon return home.”
Shahab said the patient was tested on March 9 in Saskatoon and is well enough to self-isolate at home.
He added the person has had limited contact with people since arriving back in Canada with the exception of one person at their home.
“(The) Public Health (Agency of Canada) is diligently following up with the individual, their movements while in Canada and in Saskatchewan to see if there are any contacts that need to be informed to self-monitor,” Shahab said in a press conference.
Lab tests confirmed the positive test on Thursday.
Public health officials said a contact investigation is underway and staff will connect with this individual’s close contacts.
Officials said that anyone who may be at risk of transmission of COVID-19 from this individual will be contacted.
“While the risk of acquiring COVID-19 in Saskatchewan continues to be low, increased testing will assist us in detecting cases as early as possible and delaying the spread of the illness as long as possible,” Shahab said.
“We have now done 285 tests in Saskatchewan — one presumptive positive, 263 negative (and) 22 results pending. The same process is followed every time. We will eventually see positive cases and Public Health follow-up will happen in every case that’s positive.
“But it is critical that residents take precautions to protect themselves against respiratory illness. Wash your hands frequently, practice good cough and sneeze hygiene and stay home if you are sick.”
Saskatchewan Health Minister Jim Reiter said the government is monitoring the situation.
“The Ministry of Health and the Saskatchewan Health Authority have dedicated planning teams in place,” Reiter said in a statement.
“Our government is committed to providing the resources our public health system requires to mitigate and respond to COVID-19.”
Officials said all travellers should self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, coughing or difficulty breathing, for 14 days after returning to Canada.
Anyone developing mild symptoms is being urged by officials to stay at home and contact the HealthLine at 811 for advice.
The minister and Shahab addressed issues around delays for people trying to use the HealthLine.
Reiter asked the health authority to develop a plan on how 811 will help with patients who are suffering from symptoms and are trying to get in touch with a medical professional.
“We need to ensure that obviously 811 is going to play a huge role in this moving forward. We need to ensure that it’s operating adequately,” Reiter said.
“At the same time, I would say to the citizens of Saskatchewan please – we’ve have reports of people saying, ‘Well, I phoned in to test.’ That’s not an appropriate use of that resource at all.”
On Tuesday, 158 inmates at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre were placed in quarantine after an offender said he came into contact with a person with COVID-19.
Ministry of Justice officials said seven staff members are in self-isolation and some Legal Aid staff are also self-isolating.
The Saskatoon Fire Department said four staff members came into contact with a patient on March 11 who was being tested for COVID-19.
They are now under a precautionary quarantine while waiting for test results.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe quashed any talk of an early election.
Moe announced Thursday there will be no spring election over COVID-19 concerns.
Concerned about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials say the risk is very low for Canadians, but they caution against travel to affected areas (a list can be found here). If you do travel to these places, they recommend you self-monitor to see whether you develop symptoms and if you do, to contact public health authorities.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.
For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.
— Kyle Benning contributed to this story.