Saskatchewan health minister takes responsibility for COVID-19 communication shortfalls

Saskatchewan Health Minister Jim Reiter, pictured in Winnipeg in 2018, says he takes partial responsibility for poor communication around COVID-19 outbreaks in the northern part of the province. John Woods / The Canadian Press

Saskatchewan Health Minister Jim Reiter says he takes “some responsibility” for inconsistent and slow communication around developing COVID-19 outbreaks in the northern part of the province.

“The buck stops with the minister. The entire operation is under my responsibility, so certainly I’ll accept responsibility,” Reiter told reporters via teleconference Monday.

As of Monday, there were 97 active cases of COVID-19 in the far north of the province.

An outbreak was first declared in La Loche on April 17. In the days that followed, the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s medical health officer for the northern population unit told the media it was “under control.”

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Despite criticism of the language from the NDP Opposition leader, Reiter maintains he did not use those words.

The situation was — and is — rapidly evolving, he said.

“It seemed like it was under control, but there was a flare-up, there was additional problems,” Reiter said.

“A lot of work needs to be done,” the health minister said, adding the government will be taking “a more active role” in the entire region.

Now, there is an outbreak in Beauval as well. It was declared by the health authority on May 1.

The province publicly announced “a cluster of cases” at the Lloydminster hospital on April 29, days after it was identified by local health officials.

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According to Reiter, the prairie north medical health officer emailed the ministry of health the night of April 27. Reiter said he first learned of it midday April 28 and upon a request for more information, was briefed later that night.

He said he reported it to the premier in the morning of April 29. The outbreak was declared that afternoon.

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It could have been handled better, Reiter said.

“Could we have done better in this case? Yeah, I think absolutely we could have,” Reiter said.

Reiter said the May 1 declaration of an outbreak at the Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert is an encouraging sign of communication improvements, noting it was made public “within hours.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

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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. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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