On a day when Saskatchewan posted its second highest number of new cases of COVID-19 to date, Premier Scott Moe announced on November 17 additional public health restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus. They include a province-wide mask mandate, where masks are to be worn in all indoor public spaces, and reductions in the size of social gatherings in homes. More restrictions, in the hospitality industry, sports and worship services, are likely next week.
Moe said, “Our numbers in this province are not good. And the trend is in the wrong direction. We have too many new cases. We have too many in hospital. And we have too many in intensive care. And we need to do what we can to get these numbers down. Keep in mind that these are not just numbers, they’re the furthest thing from just being numbers. Each and every one of these numbers represents a Saskatchewan person.
“They represent our friends, our neighbors, who happen to have contracted what is a very dangerous disease. Most will recover, yes. But some are going to get sick. Some are going to end up in hospital, as we have many in there today. Some are going to die. And that's why we need to slow the spread of this virus in our communities. And that's why we're taking these steps today.”
“This is not a lockdown. This is a slowdown. A significant, one-month slowdown,” Moe said.
The November 17 announcement came just four days after additional restrictions were put on the time alcohol can be served and a mask mandate for communities larger than 5,000.
On November 17, Saskatchewan reported 240 new cases of COVID-19, with 71 people in the hospital, with 15 of those in intensive care. A further 113 recoveries were noted.
As of 12:01 a.m. on November 19, Saskatchewan’s new public health measures will take effect, and be in place until at least December 17, when they could be removed, revised or renewed, Moe said.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Saquib Shahab said, “I think I'll start by saying that absolutely nothing is off the table. And so, all those things are going to be considered, including the gathering sizes and guidelines.”
The most significant new measure is the implementation of a province-wide mandatory masking policy. Masks will be required to be worn in all indoor public spaces when you are outside the home. Mask-wearing in school will continue to be decided by respective school divisions. Childcare centres and daycares will be regulated as described in the Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan.
Visitation to all long-term care facilities and personal care homes will be suspended, with the exception of compassionate reasons as per the current family visitation policy. Moe noted, “We now have or have had COVID presence in over 20 long term care facilities and assisted living facilities.”
Indoor private gathering sizes are being reduced. The maximum allowable gathering size for private gatherings in the home setting will decrease to five, down from 10. This includes in the home or in buildings located on private property, such as garages or sheds. Gatherings of any size “beyond your immediate household” are strongly discouraged at this time.
“For the next four weeks as much as possible, limit your visitors from outside your household,” Moe said.
Support personnel such as therapists and nursing staff, and tradespersons including housekeepers and plumbers, are permitted though they should maintain two-metre distancing and be masked during service provision. Health care workers not able to maintain physical distancing when providing home care services must wear appropriate PPE.
The press release noted, “Any private gathering of more than five people/your immediate household must occur in a public venue such as a restaurant or community hall, abiding by all applicable guidelines of physical distancing, food service, masking and so on.”
Moe phrased it as, “If you absolutely must get together in person with someone from outside of your home school, you should make every attempt for this to occur in a public venue such as a restaurant.”
As for why, Shahab explained that half of Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 cases are from close contacts. This is also why he said it is better to go to a restaurant, because there is more room to spread out than there often is at a table at home.
“Obviously, at home, we saw that you just can't maintain the two-metre distance. You have a dining table, you have some food, when friends and family come, everyone's trying to maintain some distance. It was just not possible,” Shahab said.
Outdoor private gatherings remain at 30 people maximum and only if physical distancing of two metres can be maintained at all times.
“At this time, if you're able to work from home, you should work with your employer to make that happen,” Moe said, acknowledging that not everyone can. The public service, and Crown corporations, will try to do the same. Some of those public servants may be deployed in beefing up contact tracing.
Moe repeatedly noted the province will be consulting with and review guidelines for the hospitality industry, athletic organizations, gyms, and faith leaders of worship services.
“We’re doing that consultation now, and there will be changes to how, quite likely, each of these organizations operate in the days ahead,” Moe said. “Don’t think there isn’t going to be some changes in each of these sectors.”
Entertainment transportation such as party buses, group limousines and recreational vehicles are no longer permitted.