Saskatchewan announces 60 new COVID-19 cases, mostly on Hutterites colonies

REGINA — Saskatchewan has posted its largest single-day jump in COVID-19 cases with 60 coming largely from Hutterite communities.

Health officials say 48 of the new cases are on colonies and 43 of those are from a single colony in the Rural Municipality of Lawtonia, 200 kilometres west of Regina.

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Premier Scott Moe attributed that colony's high case numbers to testing being done by Saskatchewan Health Authority officials, but said communal living is an environment where COVID-19 can spread.

"This is a serious day for all of us in the province," he said at a media briefing Wednesday. "If this doesn't get everyone's attention across this province, I would hope it does."

The Ministry of Health said there are 17 Hutterite colonies with active infections.

Moe said he and his health ministers have spoken to many of the colony's leaders who seem co-operative with the province's request to limit non-essential travel in and out of their communities.

Public health advice about reducing the spread of the virus is also being disseminated, he said.

Saskatchewan had been reporting one or two new cases each day at the start of July, but has seen big daily jumps in recent weeks.

The previous biggest daily increase was 42 on July 16.

Of the 1,030 total cases in the province, 190 are considered active.

Officials said 825 people have recovered, 13 are in hospital and 15 people have died.

Hutterites are Anabaptist religious groups who live communally in rural colonies across the Canadian and U.S. Prairies and share most personal property.

Moe said colonies are not only being asked to limit all non-essential travel in and out, but also between communities. Attending farmers markets could be deemed as essential, he said, but that may be an issue.

The premier said affected colonies have been offered assistance from the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency, which manned road blocks set up during a COVID-19 outbreak in the far north.

Moe said the government doesn't have plans to set up roadblocks around colonies and instead prefers to work with local leaders. However, he said the option to impose further restrictions is available if the province's advice is ignored.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2020

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