Regina, Shellbrook – Sports have not been shut down entirely, but games have, and practices are now reduced to eight people. All but the youngest of children are now expected to wear masks when appropriate. Those were some of the latest restrictions the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health announced another round of new restrictions to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Those restrictions in many ways do not go as far as some of what has been implemented in Alberta and Manitoba in recent days and weeks. Saskatchewan’s new cases on Nov. 25 came in at 164, but the 7-day average is now 214.3, a relatively levelling off over the last four days.
While Manitoba has entered another lockdown, on Nov. 24, Alberta announced that it would soon be closing junior high and high schools, reverting to online learning as of next week, and extending the winter break for all students until Jan. 11. Saskatchewan will be doing neither, as it stands.
Premier Scott Moe, who is personally self-isolating after a possible exposure to COVID-19 at a Prince Albert restaurant 10 days earlier, made the announcement via videoconference on Nov. 25. He was joined by Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab, who was in the Legislature in Regina.
The new Saskatchewan measures come into effect at 12:01 a.m., Friday, Nov. 27.
Moe said, “Our goal is to find the right balance, on behalf of the people in this province to protect Saskatchewan people from the spread of COVID-19, while at the same time, protecting the Saskatchewan people's jobs and their livelihoods. Our goal is to not shut down businesses, services and activities that ultimately put people out of work, and at times, may threaten their mental health. Our goal is to find ways for those things to operate and to do so safely, so that people can continue to participate in athletics and continue to work, while at the same time, continue to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.”
Moe said, “All indoor public gatherings will be limited to 30 people. This includes all types of social gatherings, including weddings, funerals, as well as worship services. No food or drink maybe present or served at these events, and capacity will also be restricted to 30 people at all casinos bingo halls, arenas live performance venues and movie theatres, as well as any other facilities that currently have the capacity of up to 150 people.”
He noted that private gatherings in your home are still limited to five people.
Restaurants, bars and night clubs will not be shut down, but they will have to space out indoor clientele even more, with limits of four people per table, and three metres between tables unless they have barriers installed, in which case two metres is sufficient.
All team/group sports, activities, games, competitions, recitals, practices, etc. are suspended, according to the release on Nov. 25. This includes amateur and recreational leagues for all age groups. Examples include hockey, curling, racquet sports, cheerleading, dance practices in group setting, etc.
“All team sports are going to be paused until Dec. 17,” Moe said. “However, athletes under the age of 18 may continue practicing or training in groups of eight or fewer.”
Mask use is now required for all indoor fitness activities, except for swimming. Individual and group fitness activities can continue, but with three metre spacings and limits of eight people in a group.
“All students, employees and visitors in schools and daycares are now required to wear a mask, except when they need to eat or drink. And mask use is now required in all common areas of businesses and workplaces,” Moe said. Children ages zero to two years-old are exempt from wearing masks. Children ages 3-12 should wear a mask if they are able to.
All employees and visitors in all common areas in businesses and workplaces, even in those areas which the public does not have access (e.g. construction sites, manufacturing facilities).
“Large retail stores, must limit their capacity to 50 per cent or four square meters per person, whichever is less,” Moe said.
Sports led to school, work infections
Shahab explained the reasoning behind the sports restrictions, saying that the nature of play always has a risk of transmission, even if you follow all the guidelines. “But over the last two to three weeks, they were becoming so frequent, and many cases, they were resulting in, for example, in children's sports, multiple cases then being imported into schools. For adult sports, multiple cases and became imported into workplaces. So, it was really important to have that pause for three weeks to slow down transmission in that setting.”
Once cases come down, Shahab said the guidelines may be adjusted again.
Moe explained how these particular restrictions were chosen, saying, “It would be great if we could just pinpoint or two venues or one or two activities where this spread is occurring, and just restrict those zones. But the reality is, it’s COVID, it’s in our communities, and it has been spreading in a number of different places, both inside and outside of our homes, and that's why we need to enact a number of different measures to get our numbers under control.”
As for why the restrictions didn’t go further, such as a complete shutdown, lockdown or circuit breaker, similar to what was done in the spring, Moe said, “We do understand this virus better than we did back in the spring. We do know more about how it is spread. And we know what we need to do to reduce the spread of this virus, to keep ourselves and keep others safe. We need to just slow down a little bit.
“The overwhelming majority of Saskatchewan businesses and their employees in this province are operating safely, day to day. So, it would be terribly unfair, and it would have a huge negative impact, to close down all those businesses and put thousands of Saskatchewan people out of work. Yes, that is what we did, temporarily, this past spring. We took a very sweeping, broad brush approach to shutting down businesses, services and activities in our communities,” he said, adding, “But we don’t believe the solution is another wide-scale lockdown.
Moe said, “Putting thousands of Saskatchewan people out of work, devastating small businesses and families, ending their livelihoods in many cases; a much better approach for us is to find the right balance; to find ways for us to operate and to do so even more safely than we have. By ensuring, yes, we are following all the existing guidelines that are in place. And by implementing some additional protocols so businesses and services can remain open and can do so safely.”
Moe said, “We’re not prepared to look at a shutdown of our economy, in our communities, at this point in time, and we don’t believe it’s imminent that we will have to do a shutdown, here in the province. But, in saying that, if we’re not able to bend the growth and rate of transmission of this disease, obviously, that is a conversation that may come in the weeks and months ahead.”
He said the actions taken thus far, and those added today, will hopefully not only flatten the rate of increase of infections, but bend that curve back down.
He thanked the business, athletic and worship organizations that took part in recent consultations with regards to these measures.
Both Moe and Shahab held out some hope that some restrictions might be lifted in time for the upcoming holidays. One possibility might be some allowable visits to long-term care homes, with multiple levels of personal protective equipment, but we’re not at that point in time, yet.
The Ministry of Health is now posting a listing of outbreaks in long-term care homes on the Government of Saskatchewan website.
Brian Zinchuk, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Estevan Mercury