To help reduce growing coronavirus case numbers over the coming weeks, more public health measures are being introduced in Saskatchewan.
These additional public health orders will come into effect as of 12:01 a.m. Friday, Nov. 27 — as recent ones introduced in the last couple weeks will remain — until Dec. 17 when they will be reviewed by Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab.
Read more: COVID-19 outbreaks in Saskatchewan
“We had specific measures put in place for the last two weeks that we think have had some impact but not sufficient impact to bring our case numbers down. Hence the important announcements today to slow things down,” Shahab said at a press conference on Wednesday.
“It’s just really important for us to stay the course for the next three weeks and see our numbers start trending down by the middle of December so that we can look at further options at that time in terms of continuing or even relaxing some of those measures as appropriate.”
“If they start trending up again — despite all these measures — unfortunately then further measures would have to be considered, which are again, very hard to propose and implement, but are necessary to protect the health care system, which has come under some stress and certainly we don’t want that coming under additional stress at this point,” Shahab said.
While in self-isolation and waiting on the result of a COVID-19 test, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said via video that the goal of the new measures and restrictions is to find the right balance in regards to another lockdown in the province like the one seen back in March.
“Our goal is to find the right balance on behalf of the people of this province to protect Saskatchewan people from the spread of COVID-19 while at the same time protecting Saskatchewan people’s jobs and their livelihoods. Our goal is to not shut down businesses, services and activities that ultimately put people out of work and at times and may threaten their mental health,” Moe said.
“This can be very frustrating … there’s no silver bullet to controlling COVID-19. There’s no one place, there’s no one activity that is responsible for spreading this virus. And there’s no one practice or one restriction or one guideline that would prevent the spread of this virus. We have to do all of it and we have to keep doing all of it all the time, each and every day. That’s what I am again, asking every Saskatchewan resident to do.”
Starting on Friday, the province’s restaurants and licensed establishments must maintain guest/reservation information on all patrons and are limited to seat four at a single table.
Health officials said if there are impermeable barriers between the tables, tables must be placed two metres apart. If there are no impermeable barriers between tables, there must be a three metre distance between all tables.
The province’s casinos, bingo halls, arenas, live theatres, movie theatres, performing arts venues and any other facilities that are currently supporting a capacity of 150 people will be restricted to 30 people on Friday.
Indoor public banquets, conferences, wedding and funeral receptions in public venues will be limited to 30 people. Food or beverages may not be present or served.
The maximum allowable gathering size for private gatherings in Saskatchewan homes stays at five.
According to press release, all team/group sports, activities, games, competitions, recitals and practices are suspended, including amateur and recreational leagues for all age groups.
“When we look at other transmission settings, outbreaks or single cases, it is very evident that they happen in all settings but certainly recreational facilities and sports activities do stand out quite significantly,” Shahab said.
“And the challenge there, of course, is that if you have two or three teams playing and then children then present as cases within school, so many schools will get impacted. So, right now, that was a primary source of importation into schools through sports activities and hence the pause there. For adults playing sports, again, adults getting together, two teams playing. If there was a cluster, it would go back to households. It would go back to workplaces.”
Health officials said athletes and dancers 18 years of age and under may continue practicing, conditioning and skills training in groups of eight or fewer while abiding by the required mask use and at least three metres of physical distancing at all times. The same restrictions apply for fitness activities and group fitness classes.
Mandatory, non-medical mask use will be required during all indoor fitness activities, with the exception of aquatic activities.
Masking will also be extended to students, employees and visitors in all schools and day cares (except while consuming food or beverage or engaging in aquatic fitness activities). Children ages up to two years old are exempt from wearing masks.
The new measures will also involve mandatory masking for employees and visitors in all common areas in businesses and workplaces, even in those areas which the public does not have access. Common areas in provincial and municipal correctional facilities will also require masking.
All places of worship must reduce capacity to 30 people, as of Friday, according to the new measures.
New measures dictate that large retail locations with square footage larger than 20,000 square feet are required to limit customer access to 50 per cent capacity — which is determined by half of the specified fire-code capacity — or four square metres of space per person, whichever is less, according to officials.
According to the government’s release, the province’s retail businesses must enhance the expectation of mask use and mitigation measures through signage and staff training.
“I would suggest that those individual interactions where sometimes there’s a bit of an unhappiness about putting a mask on when you’re going to an indoor public place, I think we just need to comply with that and make it easy for all of us business owners, customers, other people who may be there and recognize that this really is to protect all of us,” Shahab said.
“But certainly, I think if there continues to be any significant violations, that would have to be looked at.”
Fines for not following Saskatchewan’s public health orders, in cases where negligence or misconduct have been found, may be $2,000 for individuals and $10,000 for corporations, plus a victim surcharge.
Health officials said there were 164 new cases in the daily update on Wednesday, with the overall total for the province growing to 7,047 since the first case was reported in March. They added the new seven-day average of daily cases is 214.