After almost 3 years of COVID, New Year's Eve in Sask. will look a little different this year

New Year's Eve celebrations are just around the corner and though COVID-19 has become less of a general concern, it and other respiratory viruses are still circulating in Saskatchewan. (CCO/Pexels - image credit)
New Year's Eve celebrations are just around the corner and though COVID-19 has become less of a general concern, it and other respiratory viruses are still circulating in Saskatchewan. (CCO/Pexels - image credit)

New Year's Eve is on the horizon and although COVID may be less of a concern than in recent years, with respiratory illnesses circulating it is still wise to assess your risks before venturing out to celebrate, according to the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) and an epidemiologist.

The SHA's website features questions for people to consider before they head out to ring in 2023.

People who are ill should avoid gathering, while those who aren't sick should consider whether or not their vaccination status is up-to-date for both flu and COVID-19 shots before heading out, it says.

The health authority recommended people consider the vaccination status of those who they'll be interacting with, too.

"If they aren't or you don't know, you can take personal precautions to help keep yourself and others safe," the health authority page said.

The health authority recommended washing or sanitizing hands to prevent the spread of germs, and masking to reduce the spread of airborne illness, though masking is up to each individual's discretion and not mandatory.

A release from SHA noted seniors, people with chronic health conditions or compromised immune systems, children under five and pregnant women are the most high risk categories for illness from COVID-19, RSV and influenza.

"At the end of December 2022, compared to the past two Decembers… we are in a different place particularly with COVID-19, in the sense that the population level, at a societal wide level, we have quite a bit of immunity amongst us," epidemiologist Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine said on Thursday.

The current levels of public immunity, he said, come through the contraction of COVID-19 or through the public vaccination process.

Submitted by University of Saskatchewan
Submitted by University of Saskatchewan

Gathering is OK, he said, as long as risk factors like those put forward by the health authority are carefully considered.

Muhajarine said he tries to ensure he and his family are up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccinations. He also wears a good facemask when he's indoors with groups larger than five or 10 people — a step he said helps protect him from all the respiratory illnesses floating around right now.

"We are not talking about mandatory masking; I think [there's] a really low appetite for that kind of mandating.… We are three years in, at our population level we have lots of immunity," Muhajarine said.

"We know how to treat and how to manage COVID-19.… we are at a different place fundamentally as humans compared to where we were in 2020."

Muhajarine said he will also cancel any plans he may have if he feels any flu-like or COVID-like symptoms, as the SHA suggests.

Manageable but dangerous

Muhajarine noted that although immunity levels are drastically different and COVID is more manageable than it's ever been, the virus was still dangerous.

He said more people in Canada died from COVID in 2022 than the previous year, and that in December alone three times as many people were hospitalized due to the virus than were recorded in 2021.

He also pointed out that long COVID can leave severe long-term impacts on patients.

"We still have to take care of ourselves, because people still lose their lives and end up in hospitals and their lives are really disrupted by COVID-19," Muhajarine said.