The mayor of Prince Albert and the chief of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in northern Saskatchewan say the organizers of Prince Albert church meetings that have been tied to a regional outbreak of COVID-19 should be fined by the provincial government.
“I think anyone that has a gathering has to be responsible for the safety of those individuals,” said Chief Peter Beatty on Thursday.
“There’s got to be strict consequences,” said Mayor Greg Dionne. “They weren’t wearing masks. The rules say they have to. So take action. People have to know that we’re a strong government.”
On Wednesday, provincial health officials confirmed six people who had attended meetings at Full Gospel Outreach Centre in Prince Albert from Sept. 14 to Oct. 4 had tested positive for the virus and that close contacts had been identified in several communities, including some First Nations.
The number of positive cases was expected to climb, officials added.
Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskachewan’s chief medical health officer, is expected to address the evolving situation at a COVID-19 news conference at 2:30 p.m. CST Thursday.
Beatty said a woman from Southend tested positive for the virus after attending one of the Prince Albert church meetings as well as a funeral in Pelican Narrows. He said that person has infected four other people: an elderly person in Southend and three people in Deschambault Lake.
“It’s connected to that church in PA,” Beatty said.
It was not immediately clear if the five cases cited by Beatty are among the six cases confirmed by the province.
Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation placed all of its communities under lockdown on Thursday, closing schools and announcing that vehicles coming into communities would be searched, with anyone but band members and residents barred from entering.
“There’ll be designated days where people can go for supplies and helping,” Beatty said. “So we’re back to the same scenario that we were in back in March. Full lockdown. There’s no inter-community travel either. It’s really it’s really put us in a position that we didn’t we don’t need to be in at this point.”
Ian Lavallee, an evangelist who led meetings at Full Gospel Outreach Centre, confirmed singers did not wear masks. He said they didn’t know provincial guidelines required them to. He said the church had hand sanitizer and offered masks.
Lavallee said the government had not spoken to him about a fine as of Thursday.
A photo of a Sept. 11 meeting, posted on Lavallee’s Facebook page, showed an audience of mostly unmasked people.
“I’m disappointed,” Dionne said of the church, “but I’m also disappointed in the [province]. There’s been no charges laid.”
Dionne said he’s concerned because people from northern Saskatchewan attend the church and “nobody knows what the real number [of infected is.”
As of Wednesday, contract tracers had reached out to more than 100 people, according to health officials.
Sask. Party Leader Scott Moe was asked at a news conference Thursday morning if there would be any consequences.
“I don’t know of the particular contact tracing and what that’s revealing in the case of Prince Albert. I did read that there was maybe some interprovincial travel involved,” Moe said, adding that he would let the contract tracers do their work.
“Our staff are working very hard.”
Moe said that while interprovincial travel is not illegal, it’s currently discouraged unless absolutely necessary.
He called on people to follow the rules.
“Let’s not let our guard down in adhering to the public health recommendations that are there, including wearing a mask if you’re singing in your place of worship.”