Sask.'s latest COVID-19 restrictions are contrary and illogical, and put business ahead of lives

We can meet our parents at the gym, take them for a steak dinner, or go bowling together. But if we want to let them see their grandchildren in a safe private space, we need to rotate people into the backyard or face steep fines.

I can have 30 people in my backyard, but only 5 in my house

Martha Neovard (right) poses with her oldest daughter as they wait to pick up a prescription. Neovard says her family has taken every possible COVID-19 precaution. (Submitted by Martha Neovard)

This is an opinion piece by Martha Neovard, a childbirth and infant feeding educator — and a mother of three — in southern Saskatchewan.

For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

When we first found out we were expecting our third daughter, the "family of five" scenarios ran rampant through my mind.  We knew that forever-after we would be trying to fit our expanded family into a smaller mould.  

If we wanted to go on vacation, we'd have to pay extra, as most affordable vacation packages come prebuilt for families of four. If we bought movie ticket packages, if we booked a hotel room, ordered a family meal from a restaurant, we knew we'd have to adjust expectations, pay more, expect less. 

I honestly thought we'd seen the worst of it when we realized we had to trade in our crossover SUV for a minivan in order to fit three car seats.

I have to say, the province's Nov. 17 announcement of new COVID restrictions hit me in the gut in the way that nothing ever has.

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I called my parents, almost in tears.

"Mom," I said, "With the new restrictions, you and dad can't come see your granddaughter on her birthday. It was going to be just our family and you two, but we can't have more than five people in our house."

Then I had a thought. 

"You know what mom, it's OK. New plan. We will have a backyard party, and I'll invite you guys and 23 other guests, that makes 30 of us all together.

"We will go to a big box store first and hang out with the hundreds of people there while we shop for birthday cake. 

"Then we will go out for supper to a restaurant, then bowling, then a movie.

"Then we can tuck the kids into bed and we will go bar-hopping! As long as we don't take a party bus or hit up a hookah lounge, we're well within the rules!"

There was a long silence on the other side of the phone.  

I haven't heard from my parents since.

Martha Neovard has three daughters: Aria, Isabel and Serenity. (Submitted by Martha Neovard)

Taking personal responsibility

All joking aside, it is hard to have confidence in rules that are contrary and illogical.

I am a strong believer in science and following public health measures. I tolerated stares in March when our family first started wearing masks out in public. In September we made the difficult and financially stressful decision to keep our children at home and pay a caregiver to help them with online schooling while my husband and I worked full time.  

We carry hand sanitizer and wash our hands frequently. We mask everywhere we go. We do not attend high risk activities and keep our social bubbles very small. 

We can support the economy and still facilitate safe family contact.- Martha Neovard

Our children haven't seen any friends since August. On top of my parents being in their fifties and sixties, we have a daughter with a hyperreactive immune system, and my husband and I both carry risk factors.  We want to keep everyone in our extended family safe and protected.

These measures have allowed our children, who have no social interaction outside their online school and friends, to continue to safely see their grandparents.

No logic to restrictions

When we heard the latest announcement from the province, I was first gratified to hear a mandatory mask order, then slid into complete shock and distress at hearing we could no longer visit our parents.

This order is illogical when compared to other things still being allowed.

Premier Scott Moe (left) and chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab announced Tuesday that private indoor gatherings would be restricted to five people. (Adam Hunter/CBC)

I am baffled that I can be fined for having my mother or father over to safely see their grandchildren, but could meet them at a public bar, or invite 25 random people to my backyard for a winter social.

We can meet our parents at the gym, take them for a steak dinner, or go bowling together. 

We can drive to another city or province and go bar hopping.  

We can go to Costco, get shoulder-to-shoulder with people while buying a large tub of Queso dip, smuggle that dip into a public cinema and take turns slurping it down while watching a B-rated movie.

But if we want to let my parents see their grandchildren in a safe private space, we need to rotate people into the backyard or face steep fines.

One of Martha Neovard's daughters watches her 'birthday party' drive by. (Submitted by Martha Neovard)

A healthy economy needs healthy people

Don't get me wrong, we have to keep our economy afloat. We should look at tax credits, grants, commercial rent relief programs, continued wage subsidies and public campaigns to support local. 

We can support the economy and still facilitate safe family contact.

The new public health measures put our economy at high risk.  As families flock to crowded public places to spend time in each other's company, it may give a temporary economic boost, but when case numbers climb as a result we risk complete shutdowns. It is short-term gain at the cost of long-term damage.

These short-sighted moves place heavy value on the consumer identity of Saskatchewan citizens, while discounting what keeps us vigilant: the wellbeing of the people we love and wish to continue seeing.

Keeping the economy temporarily afloat should never come at the expense of the mental health and wellbeing of Saskatchewan families. We should never accept lives lost to politics and pandering.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

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Martha Neovard resides in Regina with her three daughters, two dogs and one husband. She works as a childbirth and infant feeding educator in southern Saskatchewan and enjoys opera music, irony and creative writing.