Saskatchewan plans to remove remaining public health restrictions on mandatory masking and gathering size limits once 70 per cent of all residents over the age of 12 have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
On Tuesday the province announced an update to the reopening plan launched May 4.
The removal of restrictions and mask mandates could occur as early as July 11. This could only occur three weeks after 70 per cent of people age 12 and above have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, with at least three weeks having passed since the beginning of step two on June 20.
“When we released the Re-Opening Roadmap on May 4 step three was not quite fully developed. We said that most remaining restrictions would be lifted in step three but events and gathering size limits as well as the indoor masking order would remain in place until further guidance was finalized. Today we are able to provide that further guidance,” Premier Scott Moe said in a press conference on Tuesday.
The original step three threshold of the plan remains in effect. After 70 per cent of people 18 and older have received their first dose of vaccine and three weeks since the beginning of Step Two, most of the remaining public health restrictions will be lifted, such as those on restaurants, sports and recreation. Mandatory masking and gathering size limits would remain in effect until 70 per cent of people ages 12 and above have received their first dose.
“We have had the public health orders in place in our province for 445 days now. They could all be removed in just a little over a month if enough of us choose to go out and get vaccinated. It’s up to each of us.”
As of Tuesday, according to the province, 66 per cent of those over the age of 18 have received their first dose, while 62 per cent of people 12 plus in Saskatchewan have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
“The only way to do that and to make sure that we can reopen safely is for the vast majority of us to get vaccinated,” Moe said.
He explained that the province is confident that vaccines are working, illustrated by case numbers and hospitalizations falling in Saskatchewan and across the country. The second reason for confidence was the high vaccination levels that the province set out in the reopen plan.
“We have all seen the large crowds south of the border at hockey games and at golf tournaments and we see Las Vegas is removing their restrictions today. And over the course of this last weekend we saw large crowds also at the Indy 500. The US has moved forward with their reopening plan much faster than we have here in Saskatchewan and with lower vaccination rates,” Moe said.
Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab also noted the decline in case and hospitalization numbers on a day where the province was below 100 cases reported with 86.
“They are coming down to a remarkable extent and we should not right now become complacent,” he explained.
Moe explained that the approach in Saskatchewan is much more cautious.
“ There are just over a million people in Saskatchewan who are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in fact it’s at 1,330,000 to be exact. So that means just over 720,000 people would need to be vaccinated for us to reach that final target. That’s a very significant level of vaccination and it will provide our province with a very significant level of protection,” he said.
Although masking requirements will no longer be required under the public health order, some people may still wish to wear masks based on their own risk assessment and comfort level depending on the circumstances. Masking requirements may also still be in effect in certain workplaces at the discretion of owners or operators. Moe was emphatic about the personal choice.
“I also want to say that even once the mask order is removed everyone should still feel comfortable if they choose to wear a mask in certain situations as they see fit. If you want to keep wearing your mask until you receive your second shot that’s fine or when you are in the store or when you are at work that’s all perfectly fine. Everyone should do precisely what they feel comfortable doing. I expect that we are going to see many people wearing masks for some period of time but that will be their choice.”
According to the province, if you are organizing a larger gathering or event for later in the summer, there are some guidelines to assist in planning.
Although physical distancing will no longer be required, consider spacing and separation for those attending through messaging or crowd control barriers. All washrooms and commonly touched surfaces should continue to receive enhanced cleaning and disinfection. Employees and volunteers should be aware of public health prevention practices, such as proper sanitization, guest interaction etiquette and emergency response protocol.
The expected timelines for lifting restrictions are being provided well in advance to allow for the planning of larger public events and family gatherings like weddings.
Moe encouraged residents to have discussions with others to encourage them to get vaccinated.
“What I would ask is that you tell your family and your friends why you got vaccinated and why they should consider the same that’s how we are ultimately going to protect ourselves and our neighbours and our community. That is how we will hit the thresholds and reopen our province safely. That’s how we will get everything back to the way it should be and have a great Saskatchewan summer,” Moe said.