‘We have to find the middle ground:’ Re-Open Sask. plan begins May 4

Premier Scott Moe. (Government of Saskatchewan/Screenshot)

As COVID-19 cases continue to simmer down in Saskatchewan, many are wondering when—and if—the province will be able to return to normal. Over the past number of weeks, we’ve questioned when we’ll be able to return to work, get that long overdue haircut or hit the gym again.

On Thursday, the province got some of those answers.

Premier Scott Moe and Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab revealed the five phase Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan.

Moe has been hinting at this plan over the last week, emphasizing that it will be “gradual and methodical” to keep the province safe from the virus. At the same time, he said, taking too long to reopen businesses could cause permanent damage.

“We have to find that middle ground,” said Moe.

“We will carefully monitor the case numbers each and every day and we will adjust our plan accordingly if required.”

The first phase of the plan begins May 4. This phase allows medical services to reopen, including dentistry, optometry, physical therapy, opticians, podiatry, occupational therapy and chiropractic treatment.

Moe said although these services can’t maintain physical distancing, it’s a natural extension of health care services that are already open. 

“These are also services that, to a large degree, practicing with personal protective equipment, providing their services with proper standards in place with respect to cleanliness, with respect to disinfection, is not foreign.”

Phase one also includes low-risk outdoor recreational activities.

Also on May 4, the province is allowing fishing and boat launches, and on May 15, golf courses can operate under physical distancing guidelines. Parks and campgrounds can reopen on June 1, but only at 50 per cent capacity.

Phase two will begin just a couple of weeks later on May 19. That’s when retail services and select personal services, including hairdressers and massage therapists, can reopen.

Businesses must operate under public health order restrictions of physical distancing and sanitation. You’re still expected to stay home if you experience symptoms of COVID-19.

Public and private gatherings of 10 or more people are prohibited throughout this time.

The last three phases of the plan don’t have dates yet. Moe said they will depend on the outcomes of the first two phases.

The third phase will see the reopening of the remaining personal services, along with restaurant-type facilities, gyms and fitness facilities, licensed establishments and childcare facilities. 

This phase also includes an increase of allowable public and private gatherings to 15 people. That number will increase again in phase four to 30.

Phase four includes the reopening of indoor and outdoor recreation and entertainment facilities.

In the final phase, the province will lift long-term restrictions regarding travel, large gatherings and long-term care homes. Up until this point, the provincial state of emergency will remain in place.

There are, however, still unanswered questions surrounding schools and elective surgeries. These are not addressed in the Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan.

“There really isn’t an opportunity for us to have a discussion around reopening schools in the next number of weeks. As we get into the end of May, early June, we’re nearing the end of the school year,” he said.

“I expect that we would have a discussion at some point as to whether it would be worth the risk to open the schools for just a week or two at the end of the year or allow them to continue to be closed and hope to reopen this fall.”

Moe said reopening will be up to individual university institutions, but he doesn’t expect that to happen for the remainder of the current term.

He said Minister of Health Jim Reiter and the Saskatchewan Health Authority are currently working on a reintegration process for elective surgeries.

“What we have learned over the last six weeks is as follows: We’ve learned that you can go shopping in a very safe way as long as everyone follows the recommendations,” said Shahab.

He said Saskatchewan has seen little transmission from people in essential workplaces. While the province will continue to see transmission of the virus throughout the five phases, outbreaks will be controlled quickly.

The government will continue its regular testing and contact tracing.

Despite the capacity to conduct more tests, the amount processed in a day in Saskatchewan has decreased due to less people coming forward with symptoms.

Shahab said the overall test positive rate is at 1.3 per cent. Last week, between Apr. 13 and 18, the test positive rate was .4 per cent.

“Even though we had a lower overall number of tests and we want to maintain that as high as possible, our test positive rate is not higher. That means that we are not missing cases,” he said.

The province’s current rate of spread is under one, meaning on average, someone with COVID-19 will spread the virus to less than one person.

He also said the province hasn’t seen a distinct peak in the curve, but urged residents not to get too optimistic.

“We should be under no false illusions that COVID-19 has gone away. COVID-19 is very much in Canada and Saskatchewan.”