Residents will soon have to wear masks again in all municipal buildings and on transit as COVID-19 case numbers increase, although athletes and fitness buffs will be exempt when participating in activities.
After hearing from three doctors about current pandemic data in Saskatchewan, city council voted 5-1 during its Sept. 13 regular meeting to have city hall implement a mask mandate policy so that non-medical face masks be required to access all city-owned venues and ride buses. However, anyone competing on a team — hockey, for example — or engaging in physical activity will be exempt while pursuing those activities.
Council also directed city administration to use best practices from other cities to help implement a new policy.
Coun. Kim Robinson was opposed.
The mask mandate will likely go into effect Monday, Sept. 20.
Why mask the healthy?
These health measures — including masking — are going in the wrong direction, especially when one looks at the statistics on the Government of Saskatchewan COVID-19 dashboard, Robinson said. For example, there are four people in hospital out of 36 total cases in the region. Furthermore, the area has the second-lowest rate in the province after the Far North.
Robinson questioned whose statistics he should believe — the doctors’ or the provincial dashboard. He pointed out that the “goalposts” often change with pandemic data, which presents conflicting information.
“I don’t see anything credible that says masking a healthy person is helping anybody. I myself am vaccinated … ,” he added. “But to mandate it, then I’m not going to support this at all.”
No vax passports
Coun. Heather Eby supported masks but didn’t think they would be enough. Meanwhile, she was not prepared to support any “vaccine passport” even though Dr. Brandon Thorpe pleaded with council to implement such documents at Mosaic Place for hockey games.
Thorpe insinuated during his presentation that Moose Jaw physicians would not cover Warriors’ hockey games if masks and vaccination orders were not in place, which meant the team would not be able to play.
“This is not a threat; it’s reality,” he said.
Thorpe added that council should start with masks and then move to vaccination passports. He didn’t want Moose Jaw to be an outlier since other hockey teams in Canada have passports in place.
There are too many moving parts to implement such a system at Mosaic Place, Eby concluded. She also thought the ticket-takers weren’t paid enough to handle that stress.
Lack of direction disappointing
Acting Mayor Dawn Luhning expressed her frustration with the lack of direction from the provincial government in dealing with the fourth wave. During the regular big city mayors’ caucus teleconferences, she has raised concerns, pointing out that health is a provincial responsibility.
She promised to continue raising this issue and to push the minister of health to act. She also believed that wearing masks was proper until council received direction from the province.
“I have friends in the medical community and … one has been working overtime consistently 24/7 because they’re needed,” she added, “and I guess that means following the lead of Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert … (to) make sure we keep our citizens safe.”
Achieving herd immunity
Municipalities have relied on the provincial government for direction since the pandemic began, Coun. Crystal Froese said. She knows that health-care providers are stressed, so she believes the province needs to make the decisions.
Froese wondered what percentage of Saskatchewan residents needed to be fully vaccinated before life returned “to some normalcy.” In response, Dr. David Torr said by video that 85 per cent of the population needs to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, especially with the delta variant spreading.
There are still more than 300,000 people who haven’t been vaccinated, which means they are vulnerable and “could overwhelm our (health) system,” he continued. That is why the system must use different methods to protect residents since some people won’t get immunized or can’t, such as children.
“Will we achieve that 85-per-cent-plus (rate)? It’s really questionable with the way things are moving now,” Torr added. “There is a lot of COVID fatigue, but closing our eyes won’t take it away.”
Council should listen to what these doctors have to say, Froese added, while it should also take seriously the two letters council received from 23 community doctors — it was also sent to the two MLAs — and a senior medical health official.
The next regular council meeting is Monday, Sept. 27.