Why we can’t have nice things – Saskatoon nightclubs restricted due to COVID

·5 min read

Regina– Surely someone is going to say, “And this is why we can’t have nice things,” as new health restrictions have been imposed on Saskatoon nightclubs following three COVID-19 outbreaks in the Bridge City.

In the Oct. 28 provincial update COVID-19, Health Minister Jim Reiter and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Saqib Shahab spoke of new public health restrictions to curb recent outbreaks in Saskatoon nightclubs. The briefing was given in the Legislature in Regina.

As of Oct. 24, 76 cases had been linked to three nightclubs. While nightclubs aren’t being shut down entirely, the new restrictions will take a lot of the usual activities – late night drinking, dancing, karaoke and the like, out of “clubbing.” While many of these were already banned, the time restrictions are new.

“The Saskatchewan Health Authority has identified multiple outbreaks associated with nightclubs in Saskatoon. The need to restrict activities in these establishments is necessary to prevent ongoing transmission of the COVID-19 virus,” said the Oct. 28 press release from the Ministry of Health. A new Public Health Order (PHO) will be posted Oct. 28, and will come into effect on Friday, Oct. 30.

The time of night when young people typically “go clubbing” is now shut down, at least in Saskatoon. For all nightclubs in the City of Saskatoon, the consumption of alcohol is prohibited from the hours of 10 p.m. to 9:30 a.m. for all persons, including patrons, staff, and owners. Nightclubs must be closed to patrons at 11 p.m. until at least 9:30 a.m. the following day. Takeout food services are permitted.

Across Saskatchewan, all nightclubs will have the following guidelines:

· Six patrons to a table only

· Static table groupings – no mingling among groups/tables.

· Karaoke and dance floors remain prohibited.

· Business owners and operators must ensure physical distancing within their establishments.

· As outlined in the Reopen Saskatchewan Guidelines, mask use is required for staff. It is strongly encouraged for patrons until they are seated.

Additionally, across Saskatchewan bars/nightclubs/licensed establishments are recommended to take names and contact information of all patrons to assist contact tracing in the event of possible transmission. Dr. Shahab said, “It's a really good idea if the establishments want to take your name and number, that at least one person should give a name and then a contact number because in case there's a transmission when, you know, everyone who was there at a certain time or date, can be contacted quickly to maybe start contact tracing very quickly.”

On top of the hours restrictions, the Ministry of Health press release said, “At this time it is strongly recommended that if people are going to a nightclub/bar/pub/licensed establishment, they visit one location only. Pub crawls are not recommended.”

“Unfortunately, especially in the nightclub settings, live music, open mics, karaoke dance floors, that really result in large transmission of events, and they really can't happen, Shahab said.

He noted that large transmission events in larger venues like nightclubs, where there was crowding “really escalated the case numbers, in Saskatoon, especially, but throughout the province.”

“And now a lot of those cases are secondary to those large transmission events,” Shahab said.

Reiter said there were 666 active cases in Saskatchewan that day, with 67 new cases and 53 recoveries. “Many of our cases continue to be linked back to recent super-spreader events, private gatherings and small outbreaks throughout the province,” Reiter said. “Eventually, second and third generation, transmission will inevitably result in community transmission.”

Reiter said, “There have been some instances where the rules were not followed. And this has led to some outbreaks. These have been the result of a few people not following the public health orders and guidelines. So we need to be careful. We need to be vigilant. We need to keep limiting our gathering sizes. Keep physical distancing. Keep washing our hands often wear a mask when appropriate.

“We've seen a number of examples how one infected person at the wrong place at the wrong time can quickly turn into dozens of new cases,” he said.

Shahab warned, “We really have to comply as customers and as business owners to let bars, restaurants and other venues continue to operate, because otherwise if our case numbers keep rising and they are linked to specific settings, then obviously, we need to look at further slow downs and closures which really, you want to avoid and you want to avoid fines as well.”

Reiter said they were prepared to do what is needed on the enforcement side for businesses that are blatantly violating the rules.

Shahab also spoke of large buffet-type lunches in workplace, and that shouldn’t be happening, either at work or in home.

Reiter said Saskatchewan is monitoring its health care system capacity daily. “While we're not there yet the (Saskatchewan Health Authority) may need to reprioritize procedures and surgeries if necessary,” he said.

He added that the SHA continues to work towards establishing a six-month supply of personal protective equipment, based on projected demand.

Shahab noted that new cases and recoveries are starting to balance out. Saskatchewan’s test positive rate is trending upward slowly. It’s 2.3 per cent, overall in Saskatchewan, but 3 per cent in Saskatoon and Prince Alberta, and 2 per cent in Regina. He said there are no geographic zones in Saskatchewan without cases.

Regarding Halloween, he said to make sure to follow published safety guidelines and keep private gatherings limited to 15 people, but to keep them as small and safe as possible.

“We did see a bit of a signal after Thanksgiving, and certainly we don't want to see large signal of increase case numbers a week or two after Halloween,” Shahab said.

October 27 saw 3,431 COVID-19 tests performed in Saskatchewan, the highest daily number performed to date in the province.

Brian Zinchuk, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Estevan Mercury