“The decisions all of us make now will impact the actions that public health will need to take in the coming weeks,” Dr. Saqib Shahab said Thursday during the province’s COVID-19 update.
Health officials are asking anyone who attended the Full Gospel Outreach events in Prince Albert between Sept. 14 and Oct. 4 to self-isolate for 14 days. Those who are experiencing symptoms are advised to seek out testing.
Shahab says 11 cases are currently linked to the outbreak, six of which have been confirmed while the other five remain under investigation.
Public health officials in Alberta and Manitoba were also alerted to the outbreak as the gospel events were attended by out of province residents.
Shahab said the outbreak “is of particular concern” because the contagion is likely to spread to Saskatchewan’s rural north, an area that was hit hard by the virus in spring.
“As a result of this we’re likely to see COVID-19 cases in communities throughout the north and the far north,” Shahab said.
He added that in order to stop the chain of transmission, it’s critical all attendees self-isolate.
This includes people who did not wear a mask, did not stick to their household or bubble, and those who shared foods or drinks, said the Saskatchewan Health Authority.
Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation has taking COVID-19 protocols a step further by implementing a lockdown following the outbreak linked to the gospel event.
Under the lockdown, all vehicles entering PBCN communities will be searched and no parties will be allowed.
As of now, no fines have been issued to the organizers of the gospel event for allegedly breaking COVID-19 protocols.
“Our first priority of the event is to make sure we can contact everyone who participated,” Shahab said.
COVID-19 guidelines have been imposed on places of worship since March. This is the first outbreak declared at a place of worship.
“Generally they’ve been very diligent and conscientious on promoting virtual services where appropriate, having physical distancing, mask use and refraining from singing, especially when case numbers have been high,” Shahab said.
“There have been sporadic cases, maybe one or two transmissions linked to places of worship. This is certainly a reminder for all of us that the only way we can go to places of worship safely is by following the guidelines.”
The SHA declared the multi-jurisdictional outbreak on Wednesday as it involved numerous individuals with close contacts from multiple areas across the province.
Doug Dahl, a health authority spokesperson, said people from several communities have been identified as close contacts to the six positive cases, including some First Nations.
“We expect those case numbers to rise and go up,” Shahab said.
— With files from David Giles and Katelyn Wilson.