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Saskatchewan looks to feds for help as contact tracing becomes challenging

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WATCH: Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe on Tuesday called the new COVID-19 measures that were implemented a “significant one-month slowdown,” saying it is “how we will slow the spread of this virus,” so the province can begin to “hopefully” relax some restrictions by the holidays – Nov 17, 2020

As COVID-19 infections continue to surge in Saskatchewan, the province’s contact tracing efforts have become a challenge, says the province’s chief medical health officer.

“You can’t tell where the source of exposure was,” Dr. Saqib Shahab said. “That’s the challenge.

As of Wednesday, over 20 per cent of Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 cases have no known exposure, and another 30 per cent remain under investigation.

Read more: Senior care workers in Saskatchewan to get new temporary wage supplement

The other 50 per cent of cases are a result of community transmission and travelling.

On Tuesday, Shahab focused on educating the public on the need to “slow down.”

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“We need to be able to count the number of our contacts on one hand,” Shahab said.

“Even if you go to a bar or a restaurant, you should comfortably say, ‘I was never close to two metres to anyone there.’ And if you can’t say that, I think we are all going to see significant challenges.”

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Shahab says a third of the population remains very active by playing multiple sports weekly, or eating out several times a week, and going to work but not maintaining a physical distance or wearing a mask.

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He says these people pose a risk to the greater community.

“You get COVID, and you have no idea who you were exposed to in the last four days, or 14 days. Well, it’s hundreds of people.”

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Premier Scott Moe said each positive COVID-19 case results in at least five to eight contacts.

“You can see how very quickly with the numbers provided, that thousands, literally thousands of phone calls can be precipitated just by that one day’s cases. It’s a herculean undertaking in many cases,” Moe said.

But each case isn’t just generating five to eight contacts, but three to four additional cases.

“That’s exactly the concern,” said Shahab, adding the province’s reproductive number is three to four.

Read more: Broadview Union Hospital in Saskatchewan designated for COVID-19 patient care only

The premier says the province is looking at expanding its testing in the days ahead, something the NDP has been calling for in recent months.

In mid-September, Moe stated the province has a goal to test 4,000 people a day, a step he called do-able and vital in order to keep the economy open. The province has yet to reach that promised benchmark.

On Wednesday, less than 2,000 COVID-19 tests were processed as hospitalizations reach new highs.

“Contact tracing is becoming nearly impossible,” Opposition leader Ryan Meili said on Wednesday as he renewed his plea for more testing.

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“Many have had a hard summer and are looking at an even harder winter ahead. If the premier continues down the path he’s on, times are going to get much tougher for businesses and their workers.”

Read more: Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe rejects NDP call for immediate circuit-breaker lockdown

The premier said the province is “working hard across the provincial public service to bring a number of employees up to speed to do negative (results) callbacks.”

Moe also said the province is looking to the Liberal government for help.

“Some of the federal public services is going to be able to work with us on some of these contact tracing jobs that need to be done,” Moe said.

“(We’re) also looking at expanding our testing in the days ahead, utilizing some opportunities in the private testing options that are available to augment and enhance the testing capacity we have.”

He said the government will have an update in the days ahead.

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