Larger Christmas gatherings could lead to COVID-19 rebound: Saskatchewan’s top doctor

Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer warned Wednesday that allowing more people to gather at Christmas without first slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus means communities would “pay the price” come the new year.

Dr. Saqib Shahab said it’s too early to say whether people from different households will be able to gather in the same home over the holidays.

Household gatherings are currently capped at five people – a rule in place until at least Dec.17 – but Premier Scott Moe has said that could be loosened to allow more people to visit during Christmas if the province’s COVID-19 numbers improve.

Read more: Saskatchewan premier hopeful restrictions will loosen at Christmas despite COVID-19 caseload

“Ultimately it has to be a decision that is based on my recommendation, but on the benefit of allowing loosening (rules) versus the risk down the road,” Shahab said at a briefing.

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“We need to be very cautious because if we relax over the holidays while our case numbers are high, we’ll pay the price in January.”

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Health officials reported 238 more cases Wednesday and two more deaths. There was a total of 3,970 active cases and the seven-day average for new daily cases was 274.

The province recently suspended all team sports and restricted capacity at public venues such as movie theatres and churches to 30 people. Four people are allowed to sit together at restaurants and bars.

Read more: Visitation restricted at acute care facilities in Regina due to ‘escalating’ COVID-19 activity

The restrictions were brought in after attempts to stem the spread through measures that included a provincewide mask mandate fell short.

It appears that people are starting to cut down on socializing, which is promising, Shahab said. But he noted the province is still tracking towards a surge.

Saskatchewan is the third-highest jurisdiction for active cases per capita in Canada, behind Alberta and Manitoba, he added.

Shahab said his preference would be that the province waits until there was an average of less than 120 new COVID-19 cases daily before relaxing gathering rules.

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But he acknowledged there are also other factors at play. “It’s always a trade-off.”

Read more: Coronavirus vaccine delivery plan coming, Saskatchewan health minister says

Shahab said there is more community transmission now than there was at Thanksgiving and less chance to spend time outside because cold weather has settled in.

There was a jump in cases tied to the October holiday.

Shahab said the province could see an even greater increase in cases from Christmas gatherings.

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Coronavirus: Saskatchewan health minister says province ‘ready to go’ for vaccine delivery

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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