Saskatchewan

Small-town Sask. residents ask for stronger public health mandates

Saskatchewan’s stronger public health regulations come into force today, with people in communities with populations of over 5,000 required to wear a mask in indoor public spaces.  But some residents of smaller communities think they should have been included in the mask mandate as well. 
Many residents of small Saskatchewan communities are not covered under the province's latest round of public health mandates. Some are concerned about the safety of their towns. (Emily Chung/CBC)

Saskatchewan's stronger public health regulations come into force today, with people in communities with populations of over 5,000 required to wear a mask in indoor public spaces. 

But some residents of smaller communities think they should have been included in the mask mandate as well. 

Robin Hilton is a yoga instructor and coach from Indian Head, Sask. 

"It seems absolutely ridiculous to me that they wouldn't recognize that COVID doesn't just happen in big centres," Hilton said. "It happens anywhere."

Mother has tested positive; daughter exposed 

Her mother, a resident at the local long term care home, has tested positive for COVID-19. The Saskatchewan Health Authority declared an outbreak at the care home on November 10th. 

Her daughter also may have been exposed to COVID-19 in her class at the local school.

Now, all Indian Head students will be learning from home until the end of the month, after three people at the elementary school were diagnosed with COVID-19.

When Hilton learned the government would be announcing stronger public health guidelines, she was hopeful these measures might help control the outbreaks in her town. Then she heard that Indian Head, with its population of just under 2,000 residents, would not be included in the mask mandate. 

"I was surprised—I was really surprised," she said. "Luckily here in town, I'm seeing a lot more masks than I have seen prior to any sort of outbreak here, but I feel like this is something that doesn't need to be up to individuals. It doesn't need to be up to communities."

Because of the outbreaks in the school and the long term care home, Hilton says many families in town have now been directly affected by COVID-19, or are afraid their loved ones will contract the virus next. 

New regulations cover 65 per cent of province 

While the public health regulations coming into force today will cover roughly 65 per cent of the province, Hilton says that is cold comfort for her family and neighbours who believe a province-wide mask mandate would help keep their small town safer. 

"I think, in many cases, a lot of people won't do something unless they're told to by the government," she said. "So there's going to be the odd few here who will absolutely refuse to wear a mask until they have to. … And a [provincial mask mandate] is that one extra step of "okay, we're taking this seriously." 

"And I think that's what people want to hear, especially those who have family members that are affected —that the government is taking this seriously and they're listening to the medical community. It's not, as far as I'm concerned, a lot to ask."

Without more provincial public health measures for Indian Head, Hilton says the town and the community have been stepping up to keep their neighbours safe.

"It really has been a community effort at this point, and I'm grateful for that. I'm grateful that the community does seem to be taking this seriously," she said. "We had a strong message from the town itself saying follow these measures, wear a mask when you can. So that was really good."

And she says she has also been moved by the compassion of the staff at the long term care home as they weather this outbreak. 

"I had a care worker say to me, even though mom was diagnosed positive, they have the PPE, so she went in and sat with her and held her hand and told her how much we were thinking about her," she said.

But while Hilton's mother is currently asymptomatic, she remains concerned about her well-being, as well as about her daughter. 

"Our youngest daughter's class is directly affected [with a COVID-19 exposure]," Hilton said. "So she's actually isolated in our house and we've had to take her for testing as well. She's had a few symptoms. It just feels like it all got very real here."

And Hilton says the government's decision to exclude communities of under 5,000 from the new rules belies a lack of understanding of the realities of facing a pandemic in a small town. 

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