Saskatchewan has set a target date to lift some of its COVID-19 restrictions under its reopening plan, but just because things can return closer to normal doesn’t mean they will.
On Sunday, the province reached its first vaccination benchmark as 70 per cent of those 40 and older received their first dose.
As a result, step one of the reopening plan will start and a number of restrictions will be lifted on May 30. This includes restaurants and bars opening with a maximum of six people at a table, up to 10 people allowed at private indoor or outdoor household gatherings and places of worship can increase capacity up to 30 per cent or 150 people, whichever is less.
Regina’s Christ Lutheran Church switched to virtual services when the pandemic first started.
According to Pastor Dennis Hendricksen, the church council is still deciding when and how it will resume in-person worship given the reopening plan, but he said it will most likely take a “cautious rather than anxious” approach.
“It needs to be quite different than it is right now for my own self to feel comfortable,” Hendricksen told Global News.
“I would be surprised if we were resuming in-person worship of any kind before the summer.”
The pastor said he wants to see the majority of people vaccinated and new daily cases drop to less than 20 in Regina before resuming in-person services.
There is not much of an appetite to return from parishioners, either, he added. He said that’s partly due to the success of Christ Lutheran’s online services.
While there are elements of in-person worship that you cannot get from a screen, he said, virtual worship has grown Christ Lutheran’s attendance three or four times that of its pre-pandemic in-person audience.
“(Online services) aren’t ideal, but on the other hand it seems to be meeting needs fairly well,” Hendricksen said.
Cory Neudorf, a community health and epidemiology professor at the University of Saskatchewan, said people need to look at the province’s plan as “very cautious first steps,” rather than a “major re-opening.”
“Most of the models that have been done show it’s not enough to have 70 per cent coverage of only one part of the population,” Neudorf said.
“What we do need to safely reopen is 70 per cent of the whole population plus 20 per cent have received their second dose.”
As of Monday afternoon, 61 per cent of those aged 30 and older have received their first dose, according to a tweet from Premier Scott Moe.
Step two will start three weeks after 70 per cent of those aged 30-plus receive their first dose and has to be at least three weeks since the start of step one.
Step three has similar three-week benchmarks, but needs 70 per cent of those aged 18 and older to have received their first dose.
“We need to make sure people continue to come up and get their immunizations and then get their second doses,” Neudorf said.
“If we don’t have that continue over the summer, then we’ll inevitably be facing a fourth wave come fall.”
Neudorf stressed the importance of continuing safe COVID-19 practices — such as mask use, social distancing, staying home when sick and proper handwashing — well beyond the re-opening steps.
“We do have new variants circulating as the predominant strain in most of the province and it still would be very easy for us to go the same direction as Manitoba or Alberta if we starting acting differently too soon,” Neudorf said.
Manitoba recorded 500 new COVID cases for the second-straight day on Monday. This follows tighter restrictions imposed over the weekend that closed restaurants, bars, patios and gyms.
It’s a similar situation in Alberta, where over 1,500 new cases were reported on Monday. Earlier this month, the Alberta government closed businesses such as patios and hair salons, increased fines for public health violations and moved schools online.
Neudorf said he believes what is happening in other provinces will influence people’s comfort levels as restrictions ease in Saskatchewan.
“I think people are a going to want to see a few weeks to months of really low cases before they are going to feel more comfortable,” he said, adding that we won’t see drastic changes to case numbers until the majority receive their second vaccine dose.