Moe says he 'should have acted a little bit earlier' on Sask.'s COVID-19 measures, now extended until Jan. 31
Mandatory masks, proof-of-vaccination policy will remain through holiday season
Saskatchewan's current COVID-19 public health measures — including masking rules, mandatory isolation for COVID-19-positive people, and proof of vaccination or negative test requirements for some services — have been extended into the new year, the province announced Thursday.
The public health orders were set to expire on Nov. 30 but will now remain in place until at least Jan. 31, 2022. At that point, they will once again be reassessed.
As Christmas approaches, the provincial government said it's not planning to limit gathering sizes.
"If everyone continues to be diligent, continues to exercise a degree of caution — and continues to go out and get vaccinated — we should be able to get together safely over the holiday season without increasing the spread of COVID-19," Premier Scott Moe said at a Thursday news conference.
Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province's chief medical health officer, agreed.
He suggested people keep gathering sizes small and consistent with the same people — preferably those who are fully immunized against COVID-19 — over the holidays.
"While we have the protection of vaccinations, we also have the more transmissible delta variant. That has created specific challenges, not just for us in Saskatchewan, but other parts of Canada and the U.S.," Shahab warned.
He, like other doctors across the province, has publicly said that restrictions should be in place until March to avoid a spike in new infections.
Moe said there is no reason to think the public health orders will be lifted at the end of January, but wouldn't commit to a further expiration date.
He emphasized that the government — with Dr. Shahab's guidance — will be looking at case numbers, hospitalizations and vaccination rates before making a decision to lift the orders.
Dr. Cory Neudorf, the interim senior medical health officer for the Saskatchewan Health Authority who led the push for further health measures during the province's fourth pandemic wave, is fine with having a checkpoint to assess the COVID-19 situation in the province.
While he also suggests keeping restrictions in place over the winter months, Neudorf said he and other health-care workers feel a sense of relief knowing they will stay put at least into the new year.
"Lifting restrictions prematurely would create conditions going into the holidays where we would have a very high likelihood of a fifth wave," he said.
"Being able to keep these restrictions in place — knowing that they're working — allows them to keep working a bit longer, and that's certainly what's required right now."
'Something that I regret'
Over the last month, Saskatchewan's number of active COVID-19 cases has dropped by nearly 65 per cent (from 2,822 on Oct. 25 to 993 as of Thursday).
Hospitalizations due to the illness are now half of what they were a month ago. The province reported 142 people in hospital with COVID-19 on Thursday, compared to 293 on Oct. 25.
"This just shows that just those two measures — wearing a mask and having proof of vaccination or negative test — have made a remarkable difference," Shahab said.
"We really hope that if we stay the course over December and January, with the extension of these measures, we'll have a safe, happy holiday season … and allow the health system to further show a complete recovery."
Moe agreed the measures put in place in mid-September have contributed to the downturn in numbers and admitted they were implemented too late.
"We likely should have acted a little bit earlier with respect to the measures that are currently in place here today — they are proven to be effective," Moe told reporters. "In hindsight, that is something that I regret."