Regina – With new daily active case counts now averaging over 100 each day, and much higher daily counts in each of its neighbours, Saskatchewan is following suit by implementing further COVID-19 restrictions in an effort to slow the transmission of the coronavirus.
Mask wearing will be mandated in communities larger than 5,000 people. All Saskatchewan restaurants and licensed establishments (bars, taverns, nightclubs) will be required to stop serving alcohol by 10 pm and consumption must end by 11 pm. There are no exceptions for private events or outdoor serving spaces. There are also new spacing requirements for gyms and high schools over 600 students are moving to 50 per cent capacity in school.
Newly appointed Minister of Health Paul Merriman and Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Saqib Shahab, announced the new measures from the Legislature in Regina on Nov. 13. This came a day after Alberta announced some new restrictions, and a day after Manitoba effectively went into another lockdown, planned to last two weeks.
Those new restrictions are similar to what Alberta has implemented, but not nearly as restrictive as Manitoba’s.
Health Minister Paul Merriman said, “Over the past few weeks, we have seen a significant increase in the numbers of new and active COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan. Our case numbers are still quite a bit lower than our neighboring provinces. But make no mistake, our case numbers, our hospitalization numbers, the numbers of the patients and ICU. All of these have been heading in the wrong direction.”
On Nov. 13, Saskatchewan reported 81 new cases, but the following day, a new record was set with 308 new cases. The high numbers were attributed, in part, due to delays from the massive snowstorm that hit the province earlier in the week.
Merriman said, “We need to work now, to ensure they don't climb even higher, to the levels that we've seen next door.
“All restaurants, bars, and licensed establishments will need to stop serving alcohol by 10 p.m. As well as hookah and waterpipes services are no longer allowed.
“It is our sincere hope that a reduction of hours in alcohol service will prevent us from needing to proceed with more significant closures in this sector. All group aerobic activities in gyms and fitness facilities must now have at least three metres of space between them. If this cannot be followed, those classes must be suspended.
“Also, we are opening up all school divisions to consider moving to Level 3 in their back to school plans. This is specific to high schools with 600 students or more. Mandatory masking in indoor public spaces are currently required in Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert. Now this will be expanded to all communities of more than 5,000 people.”
He noted the new masking requirements cover more that 65 per cent of Saskatchewan’s population, including the major trading centres. The list of the 59 communities and what is deemed an indoor public space is at www.saskatchewan.ca/masks. This is in addition to Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert.
Health officials continue to strongly recommend all residents wear a non-medical mask anywhere outside the home as an additional measure to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
The new measures will be in effect as of Monday, Nov. 16, for 28 days, and then are subject to review by Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer.
“We all need to take the threat of COVID-19. Seriously, like we did back in the spring, we need to make sure we get back to basics,” Merriman said.
“Over the past nine months, we have seen periods of extremely low transmission and periods of unacceptably high transmission here in Saskatchewan,” Saskatchewan Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said. “This has not been determined by the virus; it has been determined by the actions of individuals making conscious decisions to follow best public health practices.”
Masking in school settings is described in the back to school plans as set out by the respective school divisions.
Fitness facilities may continue to operate under the Re-Open Saskatchewan guidelines but all aerobic group fitness activities (i.e. spin classes, class circuit training, aquasize) are limited to a maximum of eight participants. Group aerobic activities are permitted only if participants can be three metres apart throughout the duration of the activity, as required by the current Re-Open Saskatchewan guideline.
Individual aerobic activities (i.e. treadmill, stationary bike, lane swimming) are permitted if all required equipment is properly distanced according to the Re-Open Saskatchewan guidelines.
As an activity of increased transmission risk, all hookah and waterpipe services are now disallowed. Hookah/waterpipe locations may also be licensed establishments and restaurants. They may continue to act as licensed establishments and restaurants, according to the guidelines for those respective businesses.
Shahab noted that as of Nov. 13, Saskatchewan was averaging 123 new cases per day, and previously he had said 60 cases per day was when we need to start taking notice, and at 120 cases per day, specific measures needed to be taken to slow transmission. “And we are at that rate now.”
He said the test positivity rate for tests is now six per cent. With 53 in hospital on Nov. 13, he pointed out hospitalization is trending up, with a two-to-three week lag.
Shahab emphasised reducing personal contacts. “We need to look at all of our activities, and slow them down,” he said, noting we should go back to one person, per household, shopping just once per week, as an example.
Shahab also said he could bring presentations on an epidemiological update and a modelling update next week.
With regards to a recent letter signed by over 400 physicians asking the province to do more, Merriman said, “And for hundreds of doctors to write a letter to be able to express their concerns and voice it, I think it's very important that they did that.”
“Dr. Shahab and his team have been amazing in guiding us through this. And with the input from other doctors across the province, and also watching what other chief medical officers are doing across other provinces. And in (chief public health officer of Canada) Dr. Theresa Tam, as well.”
Merriman called on the public to help the healthcare system get through this.
Brian Zinchuk, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Estevan Mercury