With coronavirus cases continuing to surge, Saskatchewan is expanding its mask mandate to cover the entire province and further restricting social gatherings, setting a new lower cap of five people.
“COVID-19 is now present in every part of the province and you should wear a mask in every part of the province,” Premier Scott Moe said.
“We are now strongly recommending that only members of your immediate household be allowed in your home.”
Moe, with provincial chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab, announced the new measures Tuesday as Saskatchewan reported 240 new infections — the second highest single-day total to date.
The new measures come into effect Thursday and will be in place until at least Dec. 17, when they are subject to review.
Additionally, the province is suspending visits to long-term and personal care facilities, except for compassionate reasons.
“We understand that this is an extremely difficult measure for so many people,” the premier said. “But we also know there’s one thing worse than not allowing visitors in our long-term care centres and that is allowing COVID into our long-term care centres. We know the outcome of that can be deadly and it can be devastating.”
‘This pace is not sustainable’
On Friday, Health Minister Paul Merriman joined the chief medical health officer to outline interventions to slow the spread of the virus.
The healthcare community was critical that those steps — including a mask mandate impacting 65 per cent of the province, a curfew on the sale of alcohol and limits on group fitness classes — would not be enough.
Between that announcement and the one on Tuesday, 910 additional coronavirus cases were reported.
“This pace is not sustainable,” Shahab said on Tuesday, noting Saskatchewan is trending around 150 to 200 new infections daily and on an upward trajectory. “We do really need to turn this around.”
Also on Tuesday, the province announced a ban on party buses, group limousines and other forms of “entertainment transportation,” including recreational vehicles being used for that purpose.
Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) president Tracy Zambory was pleased with the additional measures.
“We feel that every measure that was brought in (Tuesday) is a step in the right direction,” she said. “We need to make sure that as a public that we are following all of the rules.
“We know from research and evidence that masking is one of the most important tools in the toolbox and it’s really important that we give mandatory masking the time that it deserves to show results.”
Avoiding a lockdown
While SUN had previously been calling for a circuit-breaker shutdown to interrupt the chains of transmission, the premier reiterated the hope is still to keep the economy going.
“The consequences of a lockdown are very real,” said Moe, noting that during the lockdown in the spring, 70,000 jobs were lost and only 55,000 of them have been recovered.
The Ministry of Health will be consulting with the hospitality industry, faith communities and athletic organizations and gyms regarding sector-specific mitigation strategies. Discussion will be around “how the guidelines, taken seriously by many, can be enhanced to ensure that the necessary measures are being taken to reduce COVID-19 transmission,” states the press release.
The Ministry of Health will be consulting with the hospitality industry, faith communities and athletic organizations and gyms regarding sector-specific mitigation strategies.
Discussion will be around “how the guidelines, taken seriously by many, can be enhanced to ensure that the necessary measures are being taken to reduce COVID-19 transmission,” states a government press release.
John Hopkins, CEO of the Regina and District Chamber of Commerce, said consulting with industries that have been hard hit, “as opposed to just forcing it on them,” is “a very strong move.”
It’s the people flouting the rules who could ultimately prompt a subsequent lockdown, he said.
“We’re all in this together and we need to wear masks, we need to social distance and we need to clean our hands,” Hopkins said.
“This is a crisis. This is not a conspiracy, whatsoever,” he said. “Everyone needs to take this very seriously.”
‘Nothing off the table’
The premier said the consultation will take days and that any related announcements should be expected next week.
When it comes to health and the economy, he said officials are “not sacrificing one for the other,” but feel they still have some time.
“We may get to a lockdown in the days ahead,” Moe said.
“Absolutely nothing is off the table,” said Shahab, who wants to see transmission down to 60 to 120 new cases daily.
“The next two weeks are going to be critical,” the doctor noted. “If we keep trending up, I think there will be further difficult choices ahead of us.”