Saskatchewan residents are being urged to be careful as pandemic restrictions are set to ease on Sunday.
Under Step 1 of the province's "Reopening Roadmap," restaurants will be able to offer indoor dining, with up to six people per table. The capacity limit for private indoor gatherings will double to 10 from five, while churches and other places of worship will be permitted up to 150 indoor attendees.
New data shared Thursday by the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) shows residents are already "the most mobile" compared to people in Alberta and Manitoba, said Dr. Johnmark Opondo, an SHA medical health officer.
"We are anticipating there's going to be even more mobility," he said, adding people should try to meet outside and keep wearing masks.
One of the first slides Opondo featured in his weekly presentation to fellow SHA physicians showed Google cellphone mobility data from Jan. 1 to May 14.
The slide compared mobility during that period among cellphone users in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba versus mobility in those same provinces during January and February 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic began in earnest in the Prairies. The slide does not cover the last two weeks, when COVID-19 cases surged in Manitoba in particular.
Manitoba was the only province to exceed its pre-COVID mobility levels, back in early April.
"They've actually had a pretty rough ride and reissued new public health orders," Opondo said of Manitoba and Alberta's experiences in recent weeks. "And that was reflected in the Google mobility."
The trend is that as the weather gets warmer, people are going out more, he said.
However, some areas of northern Saskatchewan have a low percentage of vaccinated residents, he said.
"[That's] a particular concern because there's a lot of labour migration, particularly into the mining sector in northern Saskatchewan, and much of that labour comes from our neighbouring provinces that are having quite active COVID activity."
Only socialize outside, SHA urges
Opondo's remarks about Saskatchewan mobility came with a positive assessment of where the province stands in its fight against COVID-19.
Saskatchewan's seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases is decreasing, Opondo said. As of Thursday, the average stood at 137, or 11.2 new cases per 100,000 people. That compares to an average of 128, or 10.6 new cases per 100,000 people on Nov. 12. The average peaked at 321, or 26.5 per 100,000 on Jan. 12
For the first time in weeks, there are enough intensive care beds to go around without creating additional spaces, and no triaging of patients is currently required.
"Overall [in] Saskatchewan, I think we're definitely going in the right direction, although we still have quite a bit of work to do," Opondo said.
People should keep reducing their mobility and social contacts in order to "dampen transmission" of the virus that causes COVID-19, he said.
"Our goal over the summer is to get to as low a level of community transmission as possible because that sets us up well for any steps in reopening."
In another presentation on Thursday, Opondo warned that Saskatchewan's reopening may lead to small case spikes.
Although the first step of the reopening allows gatherings of up to 30 people inside and up to 150 people outside, it's recommended that people only socialize outside and continue wearing masks if they can't physically distance from others.
"[With] any of those types of uncontrolled gatherings, if we don't practice the COVID precautions that we know work, [it] could spark off another round of outbreaks," Opondo said.