An assortment of emotions ranging from unease and caution to excitement and joy have been bubbling up among Saskatchewanians anticipating life without government-mandated public health measures.
The public health restrictions were put in place to help manage COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus that has killed at least 570 people in the province.
Those restrictions, including mandatory masking and limitations on gatherings, lifted Sunday.
Now people can choose to return to shout-talking at friends in crowded pubs, walking any direction down grocery store aisles and leaving home without a mask in hand.
Premier Scott Moe has said that the province will no longer look to control COVID-19 through government intervention or restrictions, but instead will rely on vaccines.
As of Thursday, the province had 415 active cases total with 62 people in hospital. The province reported 113 new cases of COVID-19 on that day, the largest single-day increase in cases since the beginning of June.
The government said the rise in cases mostly stems from an outbreak at the Hatchet Lake Denesuline First Nation, which is located about 850 kilometres north of Saskatoon near Wollaston Lake, a remote area in the far northeastern region of the province.
Slightly more than 50 per cent of Saskatchewan residents aged 12 and up were fully vaccinated, as of Thursday, and just over 71 per cent of that age group had received their first dose.
'Excited but wary'
At first, COVID-19 survivor Matthew Cardinal was hesitant about the move to no restrictions. He had a devastating brush with the virus, spending days intubated in the ICU. Now he's doing much better in recovery, even clocking in 22,000 steps on Wednesday.
Aside from having had COVID, he also works in the restaurant industry. His first vaccine shot brought tears to his eyes. He feels confident now that he's double-dosed and that so many others have taken steps to get vaccinated. He's hopeful ongoing outreach and education will see vaccine-hesitant people get their shots.
Cardinal now feels excitement about the reopening, but he also fears for those who can't get vaccinated.
"The kids are going to be vulnerable, the immunocompromised people are going to be vulnerable," he said. "I'm excited but wary at the same time."
WATCH| Cardinal hopes people will be respectful to those who continue to wear masks:
Cardinal said he won't be taking his health — or health-care workers — for granted moving forward.
"I got a second lease on life. I'm forever grateful for this."
Restriction-free block party
To mark the day, a restriction-free block party will take over streets in Swift Current, Sask.
"We are trying to provide a fun kind of fair-like atmosphere for kids and for families just to come and hang out, have fun, participate in a few games. We're going to have cotton candy. We're going to have a DJ," said Nathan Wiebe, executive director of the Swift Current Community Youth Initiative at the Center. It's a non-profit serving families and youth with counselling, supervision, mentoring and other programs.
Live your life, but just be cautious. Remember that not everyone's going to be vaccinated. - Matthew Cardinal
The event is advertised as an opportunity to hang out without masks, but Wiebe understands if people want to continue wearing masks and added there will be cleaning precautions in place. The government says that despite the restrictions being lifted, "unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people should still consider masking."
Wiebe said people are excited to connect and mingle with others they haven't seen during the pandemic. He's also excited by how the community has come together to pull this event off.
"It takes a village to raise a child. And when you go through something as challenging as we're going through — we have been going through — it takes a community to get through this."
Some businesses keeping restrictions in place
Some business owners — who have to consider the health of their staff and customers — don't plan to return to pre-pandemic ways just yet. For example, some plan to continue with mandatory masking or monitoring the number of individuals in a space.
Tori Usher, co-owner of Lotus & Oak Salon in Regina, said the business plans to keep health protocols in place. She said it seemed like a quick transition from full PPE to back to normal.
"We're happy to see things ending, of course, and getting better. But it was very shocking just how quickly they just kind of ended every rule and regulation," Usher said. "We are in such close contact with our clients and staff members that we can't social distance."
The salon will continue to require masks for clients and staff. They'll keep glass dividers up and have clients wait outside.
The government said it "is the choice of an individual business or facility to implement their own masking policy. If you enter a facility that requires a mask, patrons must respect the decision of the business and either comply or choose not to visit the establishment."
One yoga studio in the city will require proof of vaccination from all in-studio participants.
WATCH | Regina yoga studio to require proof of vaccination:
Usher said her salon will assess its own additional protective measures day by day.
"To me, it's just a total 'you do you' situation. Do what's best for your business or your clients, customers to keep them safe and happy," she said. "We want to make sure everybody's happy and make sure our salon continues to stay busy and people don't feel uneasy coming here. "
Having survived his bout with COVID-19, Cardinal called on people to respect others who continue to wear masks after the restrictions are lifted.
"The virus is still out there. It's going to be here forever — I'm assuming now — it's going to be endemic," he said. "Live your life, but just be cautious. Remember that not everyone's going to be vaccinated."