Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 briefings were scaled back, then an outbreak hit

Shortly after the provincial government announced it was going to be reducing its daily briefings on the COVID-19 case numbers status in Saskatchewan, an outbreak over the weekend in southwest and west-central Saskatchewan resulted in a briefing on July 13.

Now Ryan Meili, NDP Leader and Leader of the Opposition, is calling for daily briefings to continue.

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Health Minister Jim Reiter announced July 13 there had been two new cases of COVID-19 on July 11, but 23 on July 12 and 31 on July 13. 

In recent weeks, most announcements of new cases were in the single-digits.

The daily mid-afternoon briefings on the status of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan have become a fixture in this province since mid-March, usually featuring Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab, and often Premier Scott Moe or Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone. By mid-July, these daily press conferences were being scaled back considerably.

According to an email from the Ministry of Health on July 13, “The Government of Saskatchewan issues COVID-19 updates through news releases on weekdays. Saskatchewan Health Authority press conferences are held on Tuesday afternoons and Ministry of Health press conferences are held on Thursday afternoons. Additional press conferences may be held on other days when there are major developments to share with the public, and this schedule is often subject to change. These press conferences give reporters the chance to ask questions of senior health officials and helps ensure residents are kept informed of Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 case numbers and have the information they need to stay as safe as possible.”

There was indeed a full-scale briefing July 13, with Health Minister Jim Reiter, Shahab and Livingstone joining on the phone.

The release on July 13 also had substantially more detail regarding locations affected that had had been generally released in the past with numerous Saskatchewan rural municipalities.

Previous outbreaks had listed La Loche, Lloydminster, and two Hutterite colonies in the RM of Maple Creek.

Meili, who resumed his medical practice as a physician part-time to assist with the COVID-19 crisis, said the government has not been providing enough information to the people of Saskatchewan, and it should.

“As we increase the number of cases of 56 cases over the last three days, a doubling of the active cases of COVID-19 is really concerning information. It's also really concerning the ways that we're learning about three days where, and in fairly significant spike in the number of cases and the distribution of that cases throughout Saskatchewan. And we're learning about this after the fact.

“This is a pattern with this government that was initially very reluctant to address COVID-19, was slow to take important initial steps when there was the outbreak in La Loche. They downplayed it for days and days, allowing that to get worse. There was an outbreak in Lloydminster. They didn't even share that information with the mayor and the community until days afterwards. And now, we've got this situation and a series of outbreaks throughout the province, a high number of new cases and information coming out, days later, it's not the right way.

“The default with this government and with Minister Reiter, in particular, in his direction of the Ministry of Health has been towards decreasing the information available to the public as the opposite of what we need to be doing.

“Our default needs to be sharing as much information as we possibly can. And that is our call today. Stop the cancellation of not giving us case numbers on the weekend and holidays. If we get a big spike on weekends and holidays, people need to know this information. (It) helps people make decisions.

“Stop going back to our going down to only one press briefing week. Let's keep the daily briefings up. Let's keep the access to information, especially now, as we're out of session,” he said.

“We've got a government finally decided, with this series of outbreaks, we need to tell you what RMs are involved. It's really interesting why they’ve chosen to do that, in particular. Are they trying to point out some specific community as somehow being at fault today? This is a strange approach, given the inconsistency with earlier times.”

Meili would like to see the province continue to provide this level of detail. “This has been a very confusing approach, and today's added information is welcome. But it also really, it really clashes with what the approach has been from this government throughout.

“I think there's some real inconsistency in what the minister has been allowing to come out, thus far,” Meili said. “The message has always been, ‘Well, nobody needs that information and won't change your behaviour. Everybody should be doing the same things.’

“But then today, we've got this level and the suggestion that maybe it should change people's behaviour in those communities. It's got to be one or the other. And frankly, I think we should trust the people of Saskatchewan, with more information and yes, if you're in Estevan and there's an outbreak in Arcola and Carlyle, it does make a difference to how you how you experience what's going on, as compared to it's happening in North Battleford. People still should be taking these precautions. It can happen anywhere at any time, but it does mean something to people to know and understand that is happening in the community close to them,” Meili concluded.


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