Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer discusses provincial reopening plan

Global Regina’s Colton Prail joined Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab to answer questions as the province continues to move forward with its reopen plan. Michael Bell / The Canadian Press

With Phase 4.1 of Saskatchewan’s reopen plan underway as of Monday, there are still many questions as the province continues to navigate the coronavirus pandemic and shift back to normalcy.

Global Regina’s Colton Praill joined Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab to clear up some of those questions.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: What you can and can’t do when Saskatchewan enters Phase 4.1 of reopening plan

Q: When we see this next phase of reopening, it is going to mean most things in the province will reopen. Are you concerned that it could lead to more pockets of outbreaks, like we’ve seen in the RM of Maple Creek, for example?

A: So I think the first thing, of course, is that I think it’s great that we are in the position that we can reopen in a very progressive, organized way. And as you said, once Phase 4 is done, all we have is Phase 5, which is really how big of a crowd can you get to safely?

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We will see clusters happening here and there, so we will continue to see that. But that’s why it’s really important that as we reopen, we continue to do what we’ve been doing. You know, standing two meters apart or more. We have to do that all the time at work, at play, out shopping. And that’s what’s going to keep us safe as we reopen in Phase 4 and beyond.

READ MORE: Regina Downtown Business Improvement District supports local shops as Phase 3 begins

Q: Do you think that discrepancies in certain guidelines, for example, when it comes to large gatherings such as graduations and church services skews people’s perception of what is necessary in order to truly be safe and keep COVID-19 numbers as low as they’ve been.

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A: We need to reinforce what we mean by all these different, you know, guidelines. And I agree they can be a bit confusing. The special occasions, I think that came up as a special request, the way the guidelines are, they can be done safely, but the guidelines have to be followed. So, in a place of worship, we have to have enough space to imagine 30 people, where if you’re not in one household, you’re two meters apart.

So, 30 people take up a huge area and then another group of 30 has to be five meters apart. So, five meters is … three times more than our distance. So if you imagine that, you suddenly realize that in the old days you could cram 60 people in a small area. Now, for 60 people, you need quite a large area and for 150, you need a huge area.

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When you think through that, you can do that safely, but you need to think through that. My recommendation is that there should be an approval process for that as well, because that forces you to think through all the steps to write it out, draw it out.

READ MORE: Places of worship in Saskatchewan prepare for Phase 3 of province’s reopen plan

Q: If we do see a spike in cases? Could we see the province taking steps backwards? 

A: Recently it’s all been gatherings. We know that’s where transmission happens. So, I think we need to then think that if we see multiple transmission events, maybe we need to have some caution around that. Maybe 30 indoors, 30 outdoors, maybe in the fall. If you see lots of transmission events on that, maybe we need to go back to 15 or even lower. I think we’ll have to be more thoughtful about what do we stop and what we don’t stop.

Retail [for example], as long as people continue its discipline and business owners are sanitizing surfaces, guards are getting sanitized, as long as they continue to do that, I think those sectors probably don’t need to be closed down even in the fall if you see a surge.
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This is not over until it’s over. Hopefully, (when) you get a vaccine, (that could be) several months into the future or until we have better treatments, or it runs its course which may take more than even a year. I think that’s the discipline we have to maintain.

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