Minister of Health Paul Merriman and chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab announced a handful of new public health measures to be in effect beginning Monday, as a response to curb rising COVID-19 numbers in the province.
Public health is expanding the mandatory masking policy to include all communities in the province of more than 5,000 people, including Moose Jaw. Previously, masks were declared a requirement in Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert.
The masking policy will begin on Nov. 16 and last for a minimum of 28 days, to be reviewed after that initial period. For communities smaller than 5,000, public health is strongly recommending residents wear masks in public spaces.
Public health is also placing limitations on alcohol service in the province, requiring licensed establishments to stop serving liquor by 10 p.m. and end consumption by 11 p.m. There are no exceptions for private events or outdoor serving spaces, said the press release.
Fitness facilities are also facing new restrictions, with group fitness classes limited to a maximum of 8 participants who must be properly spaced three metres apart. A distance of three metres is also required in individual activities in fitness centres, with equipment properly distanced.
All hookah and waterpipe services are now disallowed under public health orders.
Public health is also recommending that high schools with over 600 students consider moving into Level 3 of the Safe School Plan, which would see a reduction of in-class learning.
The provincial government has also updated the guidelines for arenas, sports organizations, performing arts and transportation in the province.
The updated guidelines are available under the Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan on the government website, and a list of communities now under the mandatory masking order can be found here.
“We are taking our recent increase in case numbers, especially over the last few weeks, very seriously,” said Shahab, in a live stream press conference Friday morning. “We need to take measures today to affect the future.”
Shahab shared that the new policies are a response to the strain that the increased number of COVID-19 positive cases has been putting on health facilities, with intensive care units at capacity, and on contact tracing resources.
“We have to re-adhere, get back to where we were months ago in being vigilant with what we are doing and how we are doing this, because what we feared could happen is starting to happen,” said Merriman. “We have a very unique opportunity right now to able to flatten that curve again or at least bend it as much as we possibly can, otherwise there will be some challenges [within the health system.]”
Shahab said that there is transmission occurring in numerous settings within the province and that while there hasn't been a super spreader event yet, public health is hoping to avoid the possibility with the help of the public. He also shared that the province’s test positive rate is at 6 per cent, which is considered high and of concern.
Merriman and Shahab asked residents to stay diligent in practicing all safety measures, including maintaining distance from others in public, practicing regular hand washing, and limiting your personal bubble of contacts to just the household.
“If we all sat at home, transmission would be low, but that’s not practical. People have to go and work in healthcare, children have to go to school, [and] there’s lots of other discretionary activities that have started again,” said Shahab. “If the guidelines are not enough, and cases continue to rise, we will have to look at specific sectors, where they may be slowed down or see stoppage for a period of time. The ideal thing is we don’t have to go there, but it will depend how collectively and conscientiously we follow these guidelines.”
Merriman and Shahab asked residents to stay diligent in practicing all safety measures, including maintaining distance from others in public, practicing regular hand washing, and limiting your personal bubble of contacts. Shahab also recommended residents keep track of public spaces they visit, to help with potential contact tracing efforts.
"I think we do need to give this a good solid try before we move into more restrictive measures," said Shahab.
The announcement today comes after Manitoba announces a code red closure of public spaces beginning on Nov. 12.
More information on COVID-19 in Saskatchewan is available at saskatchewan.ca/COVID19.