Saskatchewan government chooses let-er-rip COVID strategy

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Why would you want to inhale other people’s spit? Kai Pilger via Unsplash

People still dying daily

On Monday, February 28, the province of Saskatchewan lifted the last of its public health measures; mandatory masking in public places, vaccine requirements, and mandatory isolations are now a thing of the not-so-distant past. The last time the province decided to drop all public health measures was July 2021, during their phase three reopening plan.

People across the province have had mixed reactions. Some businesses have decided to keep the masks, others have ditched the requirement, and people considered high risk for serious COVID complications are now more apprehensive about going out in public.

             “The amount of investment required on the part of [yoga] teachers and students to wear a mask is almost nothing, right?” said Colin Hall, who owns and runs the Bodhi Tree yoga studio in Regina along with his wife. Hall continued, “It’s just the easiest thing. I can’t understand why this would be difficult or why it would be oppressive. I feel like when you have a group of people who don’t know each other, they’re coming from different households, and they’re in a room for an hour exercising and doing breathing exercises. A mask is kind of a no-brainer, and so regardless of what our government says, until I hear Saskatchewan’s medical community saying we think it’s okay now for you to be indoors, in public, without your masks, we are just going to go with what medical professionals are saying and not with what our government says because I think they’ve demonstrated already that they don’t really pay attention to what doctors say.”

            Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab has recommended people proceed with caution with the loss of the public health measures. He still strongly encourages people to wear masks in large gatherings, especially if they’re not around people they usually see, and to continue to follow measures that prevent the spread of the virus, including handwashing and isolation upon testing positive. He also recommends that people continue to be cautious and respectful of immunocompromised people at high risk for a severe COVID case.

            The decision has faced backlash across the country, as Saskatchewan is the first province to drop all its measures in combating COVID. Premier Scott Moe has been quoted saying he believes the cost of the measures in terms of personal liberties outweighs their benefits, and that the time has come for people to get back to normal. However, public health experts have also said they expect hospitalizations to rise because of the government’s choice. Saskatchewan is also the only province that has removed mandatory isolation for positive cases – essentially treating COVID, which is still killing multiple people every day in the province, as though it were any other respiratory disease.

When asked if he believed the provincial government did a good job looking out for small businesses in Saskatchewan during the pandemic, Hall said “Early on in the pandemic there was some financial support that we took advantage of, and I really appreciated that it was so much easier to apply for, and we received it so much faster than the federal supports. So on that side of things in terms of helping small businesses a year and a half ago, I was really happy with it.”

“But I feel like a lot of what they’ve done throughout the bulk of this pandemic has been them not wanting to do their job,” Hall continued. “They would rather sort of hand that off to other people. So with their line of do your own risk assessment, what they’re saying is we would rather not make a decision about this, we would rather not do anything that might potentially make people upset, and so that leaves it to businesses. Then we need to now decide whether or not we’re going to make people upset, and so if I decide that I want mandatory masks in my store or in my yoga classes now, that’s on me. I can no longer say, hey, this is a government decision. Now I have to bear the burden for that.”

There is no way to tell whether or not the loss of measures will dramatically affect case numbers as the province has stopped reporting numbers of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths related to COVID-19. This will make it difficult for those businesses keeping protective measures to decide when to get rid of them. It may also make it hard for people to choose when they truly feel safe no longer wearing a mask in public.

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