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People attending rallies put themselves at risk for coronavirus, says Saskatchewan’s top doc

Public health officials in Saskatchewan are warning of the risks associated with attending rallies during a pandemic. Mickey Djuric / Global News

Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer is warning people about the health risks associated with attending rallies, like the Black Lives Matter rally held in Regina on Tuesday.

Dr. Saqib Shahab says these types of large public gatherings “dramatically increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission and put you, your loved ones and the community at risk.”

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Regina’s Black Lives Matter rally was attended by several hundred people. Two more rallies are planned for Friday and Sunday at the Saskatchewan Legislature.

In Saskatoon, a rally is tentatively planned for Thursday at city hall.

Shahab says attending these rallies make it difficult to contact-trace.

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Hundreds of people attended a Black Lives Rally in Regina on Tuesday in front of the Saskatchewan Legislature. Mickey Djuric / Global News

“Not knowing who they may have been in contact with will make contact tracing and public health follow up difficult.  As a result, individuals may not have timely warning of potential exposure by public health,” Shahab said in a statement.

Several outbreaks — both large and small — have been linked to large gatherings in Saskatchewan, include the snowmobile rally in Christopher Lake and the curling bonspiel in Edmonton.

Under the current public health order, outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 people. On June 8, outdoor gatherings will be raised to 30 people.

Any gathering with more people is a violation of the public health order.

The Black Lives Matter rally in Regina on Tuesday. Mickey Djuric / Global News

During Tuesday’s rally, protesters wore masks and hand sanitizer was made available. However, the crowd did not practice social distancing.

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“If the organizers are asking participants to wear masks, avoid physical contact, use hand sanitizer, space themselves appropriately, there is probably only some occasional public education needed,” said a spokesperson for the Regina Police Service.

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“If it were a blatant disregard for the public health orders, we would gather information, seek to understand what’s going on and then collaborate with the Saskatchewan Health Authority to determine if there was any follow-up required, after the fact.”

Public health is encouraging people to hold large gatherings — such as rallies — in vehicles. Those who are marching are asked to keep two metres apart between each person at all times.

The use of marks and frequent handwashing is also encouraged, while the sharing of items is discouraged.

“In situations where singing or chanting is happening it is recommended that the physical distancing be expanded beyond the recommended two metres as this behaviour expels the virus at a greater velocity and distance,” says public health. “Consider using signs or banners instead.”

Despite being in a pandemic, millions of people across the world have been forgoing social distancing measures and putting themselves at risk while they call for justice following the killing of American Black man George Floyd while in the custody of a white police officer.

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In Saskatchewan, the number of confirmed active cases of COVID-19 remains low at 34.

“[However] it is critically important to understand that as many as 40 per cent of persons who are capable of being infectious with COVID-19 may have no or very mild symptoms.”

Anyone planning a rally in Saskatchewan is asked to contact public health for guidance.

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

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.

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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. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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