Sask. will have to learn to live with COVID as pandemic draws to an end

The virus will likely still pop up from time to time, but not at pandemic levels, Saskatchewan's Chief Medical Health Officer said Tuesday, requiring some restrictions placed on some people. Other changes experienced during the pandemic could be felt long-term.

Saskatchewan's Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab. (Screenshot)

A successful vaccination program means Saskatchewan will soon have to learn how to live with COVID-19 as the virus’s presence in the province decreases while the pandemic continues around the world.

Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said it’s unlikely that the virus will ever be gone for good, but will pop up at endemic levels and in local outbreaks from time to time.

“We can’t stay in a pandemic forever,” Shahab said. “We are reaching a point where we have to start having gatherings in a way, that for vaccinated people, is going to be very safe. There will always remain a risk of COVID, moreso if you’re unvaccinated.”

Shahab said other viruses prevented through vaccination also still lead to local outbreaks, viruses such as measles, mumps and pertussis (whooping cough). The key will be to keep monitoring symptoms and testing people for the virus when they’re sick.

He also said that it’s still possible that once the province opens up and removes remaining restrictions, which could happen as early as July 11, Saskatchewan could still face local outbreaks or clusters.

It’s not uncommon, he said, if a measles outbreak happens, that unvaccinated individuals are ordered to stay home from work or school. Shahab said it would likely be the same for cases of COVID-19.

“There will still be the need to monitor and respond as we do with other illnesses,” he said.

“When we have an outbreak we will have to take steps that mean some restrictions on some people.”

Premier Scott Moe also talked about what it might look like once the remaining restrictions on mask use and gathering sizes might lift.

He speculated as to what a Saskatchewan Roughrider game might look like in a few months.

Saskatchewan hits the 70 per cent mark for vaccines in people over the age of 18.

A Rider game at Mosaic Stadium “will look like what Saskatchewan people will want it to look like,” he said.

“They likely could, and likely will be able to fill the stadium in Regina. I am going to go to the opening game … and cheer on the greatest football team in this country and likely the world as they embark on the season to return the Grey Cup to its rightful home here in Saskatchewan. It’s been in Winnipeg for way too long ….. which is a travesty.”

Moe said some things may still be different. Some people might choose to wear a mask in large crowds if they’re uncomfortable. Others may not feel comfortable attending at all. Moe expects the increased presence of hand sanitizing stations and handwashing stations to continue.

“That environment has changed,” Moe said.

“I expect some of those changes will be extended for the foreseeable future. Maybe not forever, but for an extended period of time.”

The same could be said for other businesses.

According to results from a recent survey done by the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, about one in four Saskatchewan businesses believe the province is moving too fast with its reopening plan, and 70 per cent plan to continue enforcing all or some COVID-19 protocols, such as physical distancing, mask-wearing or sanitizing, after restrictions are lifted.

The data was released Tuesday and comes from a survey conducted through InputSask, a business-focused input community the chamber says provides “timely and accurate” insight into key issues affecting Saskatchewan businesses.

Methodology, the number surveyed and margins of error were not available.

The survey found that 49 per cent of respondents believe July 11 is an appropriate date to lift all restrictions, and that 68 per cent feel their business is fully prepared for all provincial health orders to be lifted. Just less than half (47 per cent) expect their business to fully recover, while 25 per cent don’t and 21 per cent are unsure.

“As the provincial chamber of commerce, it’s important we continually engage with and listen to the voices of the Saskatchewan business community, especially now that we are welcoming more employees back to the workplace and restrictions are soon being lifted,” said Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce CEO, Steve McLellan in a press release.

  “It’s no secret that many businesses have been impacted significantly by the pandemic and it’s going to take some time until things return to normal. For many organizations, a return to pre-pandemic ways is simply not possible and employers need to continue to adapt to accommodate a transformed workforce returning to the workplace.”

 Moe said everyone will have a different comfort level, and that those who don’t feel comfortable attending large events, or who choose to wear a mask, should be respected for their choices.

“As we go to our first CFL game, I think, in fairness, things will be somewhat different. I’m certain that there will be some people wearing masks and it won’t be required. That should be normalized.”

He stressed the importance of getting vaccinated to ensure people and province remain safe. He said recent data shows that as vaccinations go up, cases go down and that the vast majority of new cases and new hospitalizations from COVID-19 are in people who haven’t been vaccinated.

“If enough of us get vaccinated, we get to go back to doing things in our community hat, at one point, we took for granted,” he said.

“I don’t think we’ll take them for granted for a long time now.