Saskatchewan premier Scott Moe had strong words Wednesday for Hutterites who aren’t following public health orders.
In a news conference to update the day’s COVID-19 numbers, he spoke directly to the province’s 80 colonies, saying the vast majority of people are doing what they need to do to keep the virus at bay and that includes many colonies.
But he said some colonies are resisting testing and refusing to adopt practices such as eating and worshipping in smaller groups.
“This needs to change immediately,” he said.
He said Saskatchewan has successfully reduced spread of the virus because people sacrificed, changed lifestyles to reduce travel, didn’t visit loved ones in health facilities and didn’t attend weddings or funerals.
“Every single one of us in the province has been asked to, and the vast majority have changed how we are living each and every day,” he said. “You’ll need to as well. If you don’t many will get sick in your community. Some will get very sick. Some will die.”
Moe said the infection rate within Hutterite communities is more than five percent, with more than 300 of the 6,000 members affected.
“This is as high of an infection rate as anything I’m aware of in North America,” he said.
That compares to .1 percent in the broader provincial population.
Forty-four of the 50 cases announced Wednesday were in a single colony at Star City, between Melfort and Tisdale. The colony is considered in the north region.
The other cases were three in the south, two in Regina and one in central.
Moe said keeping infection rates low only works if everyone co-operates.
He also said that reporting where the positive cases are located is not to stigmatize Hutterites but to ensure people are informed when outbreaks are occurring.
“No one in Saskatchewan should stigmatize anyone in their community… or should assume that because they may be a Hutterite that they have COVID,” he said.
Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said once the virus enters a community it spreads aggressively and rapidly.
He thanked colony members who have come forward for testing.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority is visiting each colony to offer testing and education, as well as ensure compliance with public health orders such as gathering sizes. Moe said the orders apply to everyone.