With Alberta now reporting its second presumptive case of COVID-19, the virus is now quite literally on Saskatchewan`s doorstep.

Alberta is the fourth province to report the presence of the virus, with the vast majority thus far in Ontario and British Columbia. Quebec has also reported a pair of cases.

With many feeling like an appearance in Saskatchewan is just a matter of time, Doctor Saqib Shahab, the Chief Medical Health Officer for the province, held a press conference on March 5, where he tried to dispel rumours and reassure the public in regard to the Saskatchewan Health Authority's readiness.

"There's a respiratory panel that's done in flu season which tests for other cough and cold viruses, other coronaviruses. If that's positive, all that means is you've got a common cold. The lab report may say 'Coronavirus Positive', that doesn't mean COVID-19. Coronavirus Positive test result just means you have a common cold, there's been some concern that someone had a test that said that, but that's not COVID-19, it's just the common cold."

Coronavirus is simply the name for a large family of RNA viruses that share a similar structure and cause a variety of illnesses. Four of those family members cause the common cold, for example. One caused the SARS outbreak in 2003. And one is now responsible for COVID-19.

Doctor Shahab stressed the importance of remembering that distinction as Saskatchewan widens it`s testing to travellers from a greater number of countries as the virus spreads across the globe. More cases of Coronavirus will naturally appear as testing expands, but that does not necessarily mean a case of COVID-19 has appeared in Saskatchewan.

He said that when and if COVID-19 does make a confirmed appearance, the Saskatchewan Health Authority would issue a press release immediately.

Right now, the feeling is that it's a question of when rather than if. Shahab believes that it`s time to start thinking about how we would prepare if the province was in a situation like Italy, for example, which saw its confirmed cases spike into the thousands within a couple of weeks.

"Containment is key and will continue to be key. You also need to start thinking about how you would delay it becoming more than it is.`

He adds that employers, both public and private, should start planning for how they can support their staff that need to self-isolate if they`re sick with a fever. Or an employee should begin planning how they would have their daily needs met if they require self-isolation; determining support structures and planning ahead for the possibility so as to not put their co-workers or the public at risk.

As for the Ministry of Health, they have a pandemic preparedness plan developed to address influenza.

This plan includes:

  • Updated guidance to care providers on the case definition and testing procedures;
  • Enhanced testing capability with Roy Romanow Provincial Laboratory;
  • Reviewing acute care capacity and contingency planning;
  • Ensuring necessary supplies of personal protective equipment.

So far 52 tests have been conducted in the province. Of those, 45 have come back negative, and the other 7 results are still pending.