Questions — and some answers — about the province’s Reopen Saskatchewan Plan were exchanged Friday as the government and critics navigated what the next few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic might look like for the province.
NDP leader Ryan Meili held a press conference early afternoon calling on Premier Scott Moe to provide some form of accountability, whether it be through distanced legislature sittings or committee meetings or another model, to answer some of the questions and ensure the plan his government has put forward is the best for Saskatchewan people.
The plan “went partway to addressing those anxieties, but may have created some new ones as well and certainly created some questions,” Meili said.
“Questions we need the premier to answer.”
Meili said the plan included good guidelines and protocols for businesses on how they can help protect their workers and the public.
But he said other questions haven’t been answered, such as what returning workers can do with their children while schools remain home, or how ready the province will be should another outbreak pop up.
“it’s a plan that’s a start and it’s not a final plan because it didn’t bring in the entire group that should be working on it,” Meili said.
‘At the very least, we need the chance to have the debate on the legislative floor and examine this and evaluate it to receive the best results for Saskatchewan people. Is this being planned on what the premier wants to see happen or what the best evidence says?”
One thing Meili said frustrated him was that there was no mention of different approaches or different communities. He said the need for that is evident in the reactions of the Métis Nation— Saskatchewan, which declared a state of emergency or with FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron, who Meili said is frustrated with a lack of involvement. Meili said some municipalities have expressed similar concerns.
“There’s real frustration where they’re getting some information downloaded to them but not being listened to and heard for what they need,” he said.
“The response has to be different based on what’s happened in different communities. They don’t need to be told what’s happening, they need to be asked what the best choices are.
“part of being all int his together means doing our job (as the opposition).”
Speaking to reporters Friday, Moe tried to answer some of those questions.
When it comes to child care, Moe said he believes capacity remains, as daycares did not close during the pandemic, but were instead restricted to only having groups of eight kids at a time.
“There is some capacity in our daycares today. I would also say that there are still many opportunities, notably in the Saskatchewan Public Service, but other opportunities as well where people are working from home,” he said.
He added that there also may be opportunities to open up more spaces in school-based daycares that were reserved for public health and essential services employees.
“We’ll work through that on a week-by-week basis,” Moe said.
“That’s why this is a slow, methodical phase-in plan so we can address some of the challenges that may arise as we start to turn up the dimmer switch on the Saskatchewan economy. We will be working with our child care providers as well, looking at the programs we currently provide and seeing if they do suit the reality of today.”
That could mean, Moe said, redirecting some existing child care subsidies.
Moe and Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab also stressed the health care system is ready and able to manage localized outbreaks of COVID-19.
Shahab pointed out that the number of hospitalizations from the illness has been low, and the percentage of positive cases compared to the number of tests done also shows the very limited spread and severity.
Moe also answered a question relating to personal protective equipment (PPE) for non-essential health care providers opening up in phase one and personal services opening in phase two.
“There are challenges around PPE across Canada and around the world. We are lucky that we have ensured PPE for our health care workers here in the province and we are ensuring we have that,” he said.
“We indicated at the outset of this plan that there may be some challenges with some of our medical services coming into full service in securing the necessary PPE. We will work with them where we can, but there may be some services that need to be delayed for a period of time due to not being able to access some … equipment.”
That might mean some non-essential health services and personal services such as hairdressers may have to work to provide their own PPE. As long as no one is sick, Shahab said, simple cloth masks for people like hairdressers might do the trick.
“For urgent care, it’s essential that the health care system has PPE available. That needs to be protected,” he said.
“The PPE that needs to be conserved and protected for urgent care cannot, in any case, be compromised by non-urgent care. We are hopeful those supply lines will continue to improve.”
Clarification given on small gatherings
After Premier Scott Moe indicated in an interview with CBC that it may be alright for households to hold small get-togethers, Shahab clarified that while healthy people can consider getting together in groups under ten so long as they practise social distancing, they should only do so with the same groups, and not engage in too much social mixing.
If one out of that group gets sick and they’ve only seen ten other people, he said,t hat’s ten contacts to trace. But if they’ve been mixing with different groups of ten people day after day, it’s more like a mass gathering where hundreds could be impacted.
“If you do want to meet, between households or between friends, try to maintain as small a group as possible, try to take one or two friends or one or two families and meet consistently with each other,” Shahab said.
“Don’t meet if you’re unwell. If you’ve got members of those families who are elderly or have underlying risk factors, be aware of that and maintain social distancing. Try to refrain from social mixing as much as possible. While we can relax a bit and meet between two or three households. Stay home if you’re unwell and call the health line and get tested. We need to make sure we don’t ignore even mild symptoms.”
He added that if you do go out, to take a walk, or to get food from the grocery store, be sure to maintain your physical distance, don’t touch your face and wash your hands. If you’re sick stay home.
“We have an opportunity in Saskatchewan that we have wide-open spaces, even in our urban centres, and we need to use that opportunity to maintain our physical distancing even as we are enjoying the outdoors.”