Residents will no longer have to show proof of vaccination to attend a city council meeting or visit a city-owned building, although they will have to wear masks indoors for a while yet.
During the Feb. 14 regular meeting, city council voted to put three policies “in abeyance until further notice,” including proof of vaccination to attend council or other public meetings or hearings and a negative PCR test or proof of vaccination for city employees and contractors working for the municipality.
The withdrawal of these policies ends a five-month pandemic-related health measure after council instituted them on Oct. 12, 2021. This action is in response to the provincial government’s announcement on Feb. 8 that it would lift the requirement to show vaccine passports on Feb. 14.
The municipality will continue with certain pandemic measures such as Plexiglass barriers, hand sanitization stations, enhanced cleaning in venues and physical distancing measures.
However, wearing masks in public buildings, recreation venues, and Mosaic Place will remain in effect until at least Feb. 28 since the provincial government has responsibility for that mandate. City administration will bring a report to that day’s council meeting about handling that health measure.
“It appears there is a light at the end of the tunnel on COVID,” said city manager Jim Puffalt.
City administration is holding the regulations in abeyance —temporary suspension — because it does not want to re-create them in case COVID-19 flares up again like last fall after restrictions were dropped, he continued. If the regulations came back, the province would give council authorization to implement them again.
City hall told its unvaccinated employees on Feb. 11 that they didn’t need to provide a negative PCR test by Feb. 14 — a weekly occurrence since October — because of the lifting of this mandate, Puffalt added. A similar message was communicated to recreation users as well.
Vaccine passports and masks have been emotional issues for many people and created divisions not only among residents but for many Canadians, said Coun. Doug Blanc. He thought this was best illustrated by the trucker convoys that had occurred during the past few weeks, “just blown out of proportion, I think, in my opinion.”
The City of Moose Jaw had to follow the province’s vaccine mandate when it was put in place because the municipalities are “creature of the province,” he continued. City council can’t go against what the provincial government or Saskatchewan Health Authority dictates, even if members feel differently.
“When masks are finally gone, I hope people are respectful about that. If people want to continue to wear masks in public, don’t berate them and say they are foolish and whatnot,” Blanc added. “Respect their decision because I hope they respect your decision not to wear one.”
City council’s only intention with this situation was to implement these provincial regulations and remove them when the provincial government said to, said Mayor Clive Tolley. He received numerous emails from people — at least 30 messages — who advised him and council to ensure they followed the provincial protocols and directions to remove these regulations.
“I don’t think anyone around this table had anything else in mind … other than to follow the rules set by the premier and public health,” he said.
Tolley added that he wouldn’t answer every email he received because of how numerous they were but appreciated hearing residents’ concerns and opinions nevertheless.
The next regular council meeting is Monday, Feb. 28.