Saskatoon mayor Charlie Clark says the local COVID-19 situation is deeply concerning, but the city is limited as to which measures it can put in place since the province's COVID-19 public health restrictions ended in July.
"We are the hot spot in Saskatchewan and our case numbers are among the highest in the country," Clark said on Rosemary Barton Live Sunday. "It's putting a huge amount of stress on our ICUs and on our health system. Our emergency rooms are on bypass. It is a very stressful time for the community."
Last week, amidst a surge of COVID-19 cases, the City of Saskatoon voted to make masks mandatory in civic facilities and on public transit again. City employees will also need to be tested for COVID-19 on a regular basis, and the city is looking into putting some vaccine requirements in place.
As of Saturday, there were over 800 active cases of COVID-19 in Saskatoon alone, with 63 people hospitalized.
"The vast majority of the people who are being hospitalized and who are getting cases … are the unvaccinated," said Clark. "But it is also spreading throughout the wider community as a result of the amount of COVID that is in our community."
To respond to this surge, Clark says he and Saskatoon's city councillors have focused on implementing the public health measures they knew they could put in place most quickly.
"The first one is the indoor masking policy for all our transit, all our leisure facilities and all our workplaces," he said. "People know how to do it. We were doing it prior to July and it had been implemented already."
But while the city is forging ahead with masks and testing, Clark says grappling with the "patchwork system" of public health measures currently in place is a real struggle. For example, while the city is mandating masks in its own facilities, it can't enforce a mask mandate in private businesses, like the province did earlier in the pandemic.
"And so you might have a mask on a transit bus, but then if you go into a restaurant, there isn't a requirement to have masks," Clark explained.
Premier Scott Moe said the government is monitoring the situation closely and will "respond accordingly in co-ordination with Dr. [Saskatchewan chief medical health officer Saqib] Shahab and our public health officials," according to a statement sent to CBC addressing COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan.
Clark says a stronger hand from the province would lead to more consistency in public health measures across the board, which in turn would keep people healthier and safer during this fourth wave of COVID-19.
"The more coordinated it can be, the more smoothly it can be rolled out, the more certainty and predictability it creates for the businesses and their customers, and also the safer those environments can be, so we can reduce the spread and the impact on our ICUs and our healthcare system," he said.
And as Clark looks at the rising case numbers in his city and throughout the province, he hopes it will be possible to get them back under control before more people get sick and much stronger actions need to be taken.
"I just hope … it can be done soon enough that we can reduce the spread of COVID going further," he said. "Getting to a place where we need to do more extreme lockdowns will hurt businesses and employees and our economy as well.
"So we're just going to keep working at it and looking for a coordinated provincial approach."