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B.1.1.7 variant linked to 100-plus person ‘superspreader’ outdoor party near Maple Creek, Sask.

At least 40 cases of COVID-19 involving the B.1.1.7 variant have been traced to a 100-plus ‘superspreader’ outdoor party over the Easter weekend in the Maple Creek area of Saskatchewan, says the province’s health authority.

“Unfortunately this event really became a true superspreader,” Dr. Kevin Wasko, the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s integrated rural health team lead told Global News on Friday.

“We know that spread that may have initiated there is occurring more widespread across communities in the southwest.”

Read more:
Southwest Saskatchewan outdoor gathering outbreak raises red flags

On April 2, a gathering allegedly took place at a rural residence near Maple Creek, according to the RCMP, which were contacted by the health authority on Tuesday to assist with investigating what was an outdoor event.

Under Saskatchewan’s existing public health orders, outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people are permissible.

“Obviously with a 100-plus person party, that wasn’t happening,” Wasko said, noting attendees were primarily in their late teens and early 20s.

Click to play video: Coronavirus outbreak at Saskatoon restaurant was potential superspreader event: SHA

Michelle McKenzie, the mayor of the Town of Maple Creek, told Global News Friday she only learned of the event over the past weekend, when coronavirus cases were being diagnosed in the area — the town had seen relatively few until now.

McKenzie said she was just as surprised as most others by the scale of the event, which appears to have drawn people from across southwest Saskatchewan.

While she has some compassion for young adults longing to socialize, “the unfortunate part is, times have changed,” McKenzie said, noting it’s not just those who attended who could become infected.

Their family members and others in the community could, too, McKenzie said.

“Some of the things we thought were harmless now do prove that they are harmful,” she said.

The mayor said she’s struggling to communicate that although Maple Creek as a community has been added to the province’s COVID-19 outbreak list, there is not necessarily an outbreak in Maple Creek.

“When you see that, people are thinking the whole community’s an outbreak, right? It’s not. There was an outbreak from an individual party,” McKenzie added.

Read more:
COVID-19 has changed. Should our outdoor behaviour shift too?

Wasko confirmed the cases that have so far been traced back to the outdoor party are not all in Maple Creek.

The health authority has issued an alert identifying the elevated risk associated with variants of concern in Maple Creek, as well as in Outlook, Rosetown, Kindersley, Swift Current, Davidson, Moose Jaw and the surrounding areas.

He acknowledged that a year into the pandemic, people are tired. He, too, said he understands young people may be longing to get together.

While outdoors remains safer than indoors, Wasko added that with more contagious and transmissible variants, it’s important to remain extra vigilant and abide by the rules and guidance in place.

“I think anytime people start to mingle and drink alcohol, which is likely occurring, you let your guard down,” he said. “I think these individuals, for the most part, probably feel a lot of guilt, and I’m sure they feel some remorse for the fact that they did this.”

He added it’s not just these young adults or young adults in general, breaking the rules. He said that unfortunately, people of all ages are doing so across the province.

“This one gained a lot of attention because there are a lot of cases that can be traced to this event,” Wasko said.

Click to play video: Health officials warn that outdoor gatherings still carry a risk as spread of COVID-19 variants surge in Quebec

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