Host fined as 21 COVID-19 cases linked to large Saskatoon gathering

REGINA — The host of a private gathering at a Saskatoon home that resulted in 21 people contracting COVID-19 has been fined $2,000.

Health officials say it is the first ticket they have issued for a private get-together.

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The Ministry of Health wouldn't provide details of the gathering in order to protect the organizer's privacy but said about 47 people attended.

Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, said the gathering was a super-spreader event, as 160 people have been identified as contacts of those who attended and some cases have been connected to schools.

"This is a cautionary tale for all of us," Shahab said at a news conference Thursday.

"It's very unfortunate that this happened. I don't think anyone plans an event with the view that transmission may happen."

The current gathering limit is 30 people indoors when physical distancing can be maintained.

In May, no fines were issued against anyone involved in two large family gatherings that led to public health declaring an outbreak in Saskatoon.

Shahab wouldn't explain what was different this time around but said education remains the focus and several months have passed with rules around gathering limits.

He said the fight against the spread of COVID-19 is also at an important stage because students are back in schools and cooler temperatures mean the option of gathering outdoors is disappearing.

Shahab said the risk of transmission increases when people are in close quarters. Several large gatherings where food was shared, including a snowmobile rally in March, led to an uptick in cases before many COVID-19 restrictions were in place, he added.

"Things like this can snowball very quickly, and that's what we need to avoid as we move forward. Because you can start multiple chains of transmission that can cause secondary infections," he said.

Premier Scott Moe said it's disappointing that people violated the gathering limit, especially as students and staff are back in schools.

Shahab said that so far, the reopening of schools has not led to a spread of COVID-19.

Health officials said 14 students have tested positive for the virus.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 17, 2020.

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