Saskatchewan

Essential worker, nurses union worry lifting of Sask.'s mask order will put people at risk

The earliest Saskatchewan's mask order will lift is on July 11. One young essential worker who is not yet eligible for her second dose worries it will put her at risk.

Retail worker says she will proceed with caution once mandate is lifted

Saskatchewan's mask mandate could end as early as July 11. (John Minchillo/The Associated Press)

Hannah Lawlor is an essential worker in Regina that has relied on her mask to help her feel safe at work. 

The 18-year-old works at Winners as a cashier and also stocks products on the floor. 

"It's been stressful because I come into contact with a lot of people through a shift, and I have no idea where they've been or who they are," Lawlor said.

While she has received her first COVID-19 vaccine, she worries about the province's mask mandate lifting before she can get her second.

"Us teenagers and younger people just got their vaccines. Some just got them this week. They're not giving us time to get our second vaccine," Lawlor said.

The Saskatchewan government says it will lift its masking order and limit on gathering sizes three weeks after 70 per cent of people 12 and older have received their first dose, as long as it has also been at least three weeks since Step 2 of the province's reopening plan begins.

This means the mask mandate could be lifted as early as July 11. 

Jessica Bonish said she will continue wearing her mask even after the province lifts its mask mandate. (Jessica Bonish)

Lawlor said the thought of dealing with mask-less customers before she has her second dose gives her anxiety. She said it puts essential and other front-line workers at risk. 

"I will continue to wear my mask, but I wouldn't feel as protected if people around me weren't wearing masks either, if they could cough into the air, my eyes aren't protected either," Lawlor said. 

She said she would feel more comfortable if the mask mandate was lifted based on a high percentage of people having had their second dose. 

As of Tuesday, about 20 per cent of those 12 and older have received their second dose. 

Patrons feel anxious too

Jessica Bonish, a Regina resident who has worked from home during the pandemic, said she will keep wearing her mask until there are no new cases in Regina.

"Until I'm fully vaccinated, I probably won't be going to restaurants, won't be going out and about, just doing the essentials," Bonish said, adding she will most likely frequent businesses that still require masks. 

"If grocery stores aren't mandating masks, I can afford to do delivery. If my hair salon isn't require masks, I can choose to go somewhere else."

She recognizes this a privilege not everyone has, especially front-line workers. 

"They don't have a choice. We're potentially putting our most vulnerable folks at risk, our front-line workers, our factory workers, by perhaps lifting it too soon," Bonish said. 

President of Saskatchewan Nurses Union Tracy Zambory said registered nurses are proceeding with caution when it comes to fully reopening Saskatchewan. (Saskatchewan Union of Nurses)

Saskatchewan Union of Nurses president Tracy Zambory said the registered nurses who have worked in the ICUs during the pandemic "get very nervous" when they start to hear about fully reopening.

"We know we need to get back to some normalcy. People's mental health is very important. We must be able to keep an economy clipping along, but we also have to keep people healthy so those things can be accomplished," Zambory said. 

"As registered nurses, as health-care professionals, we want to proceed with a very cautious path."

Hospitalizations, serious illness due to COVID-19 declining 

Saskatchewan Health Authority deputy chief medical officer Dr. John Froh said the health-care system in Saskatchewan has seen a decrease in strain, but that there is still a considerable burden from COVID-19 patients within acute care facilities. 

"The people who are coming in tend to be those people who are unvaccinated, and that seems to be the majority of the people who are now being admitted to hospital from our latest data in May," said Froh. 

SHA deputy chief medical officer Dr. John Froh is encouraging everyone to get vaccinated against COVID-19. (Kate Dubinski/CBC)

Others who end up in hospital include people who received a first dose "but didn't quite make it out of that three-week post-vaccination period."

While vaccinations have played a key role in the decline, Froh said it's not as rapid as he'd like. 

"I think that the general feeling is that the pandemic has passed, the pandemic is ending, the pandemic is over. That is absolutely not clear," Froh said. "With the rise of Delta variants and the presence of Delta variants in the community, the importance of getting fully immunized with your second dose will be key to us avoiding any future surges or waves."

WATCH | COVID-19 vaccines can help Canada beat delta variant, experts say: 

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With files from Bonnie Allen and Gregory Wilson.

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