'Assume it is COVID': Self-isolate with even mild, cold-like symptoms, Sask. health official says

A Saskatchewan health official is warning that even a case of the sniffles is a reason to self-isolate.

Speaking during a recent Saskatchewan Health Authority physician's town hall, medical health officer Dr. Johnmark Opondo said even based on limited data, it's obvious "COVID is circulating very widely in Saskatchewan."

"This is a very, very infectious variant of COVID," Opando said while showing a slide that included a bullet point labelled "assume it is COVID."

"We'd like everybody to take any respiratory symptoms, any cold-like symptoms must be taken seriously no matter how mild," Opondo said.

"Your first assumption is it is COVID until proven otherwise and you do need to self isolate, do not go to work."

The medical health officer said a rapid at-home test is a "good first step" and positive result "should be acted on."

Opondo said the more accurate PCR lab testing offered by the SHA is "really oversubscribed — meaning there is not enough testing capacity to meet current demand."

The province is directing residents to self-test using at-home antigen tests if mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic.

"We believe we might only be seeing the tip of the iceberg even from our PCR test reports," Opondo said.

While the province was among the last to start experiencing the current Omicron-fueled fifth wave of COVID-19, Saskatchewan's rate of growth is faster than other provinces, he said.

"Unfortunately when we compare our public health orders across the provinces, generally the trend is provinces that have fewer public health orders seem to show higher rates of Omicron," Opondo said.

"The fact that at Christmas and New Year's, we did have little limitations on gathering limits. All this potentially points to a period of rapid growth of Omicron."

Last week the Government of Saskatchewan extended its existing public health order which requires proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test in certain settings and mandates public mask-wearing.

During a Jan. 12 news conference announcing the extension, Premier Scott Moe said his government does not believe additional measures would be "effective" in preventing the spread of COVID-19, saying people in Saskatchewan should "trust themselves" to make the right decisions.

A day later, it was announced Moe had tested positive for COVID-19.