Handshake seals final regular COVID-19 update as Sask. issues guidance for 3rd phase of reopening
The province will lift all public COVID-19 restrictions on July 11
Saskatchewan's top doctor and premier brought a nearly year-and-a-half-long tradition of regular COVID-19 updates to an end on Wednesday — and they did it with a handshake.
It was something that Premier Scott Moe said he'd been wanting to do since last summer.
"What I look forward to is a point in time where I would be able to shake your hand and thank you for the effort you've made," Moe said to Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab, recalling comments he made at the beginning of the pandemic.
"[You said] we likely wouldn't be able to shake hands until July of this next year. Well, July is here."
The gesture was a sentimental end to a regular fixture in the lives of Saskatchewan residents through the pandemic.
It was also the encapsulation of the tone Saskatchewan hopes to set once it drops all public COVID-19 restrictions on Sunday: the virus might still be around but we now need to live with it, rather than fear it.
"There is no 'mission accomplished' banner hanging behind me," Moe said at Wednesday's update.
The pair laid out the expectations for residents going forward after restrictions lift on July 11, but stressed that they are now just recommendations, rather than public health orders.
Moe said the time where the province would aim to control COVID-19 through government intervention or restrictions is now over, and that the coronavirus that causes the illness must now be controlled through vaccinations.
Wednesday saw the province hit a milestone in its vaccination efforts.
Half of those are eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine have now vaccinated, according to the province's latest update.
Shahab provided data from the past month in an attempt to hammer home the effectiveness of vaccination.
He said of the 102 people who were hospitalized in June, 65 per cent were unvaccinated or had received their first dose less than three weeks before being hospitalized.
Thirty per cent of people who were hospitalized were three weeks past receiving their first dose and therefore at least partially protected.
Only five per cent of people hospitalized with COVID-19 had received both vaccine doses and had an additional two weeks for it to become fully effective.
Shahab said that all of the 15 people who died from COVID-19 in June were either unvaccinated or had only received their first dose of the vaccine.
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Low case numbers could lead to complacency, he warned, urging residents to "find the time" to get vaccinated.
"Once you are two weeks after your second dose, that is our best protection right now against COVID, and will be for the foreseeable future," Sahab said.
Rules after July 11
As of July 11, the province's public health order will no longer be in effect.
That means masking will no longer be required, although private businesses or facilities can choose to implement their own policies on masking.
"If you enter a facility that requires a mask, patrons must respect the decision of the business and either comply or choose not to visit the establishment," a news release detailing the guidance read.
Gathering limits and social distancing will no longer be required.
Long-term care homes and personal care homes may allow an unlimited number of visitors and family members for their residents, the province announced.
Those facilities will only be restricted by scheduling limits.
At SHA facilities, visitors and families will be screened for symptoms of COVID-19 with rapid antigen tests being offered.
Visitors and families will be screened for symptoms of COVID-19, but will also be "strongly encouraged" to continue to wear masks and maintain physical distancing during visits — especially if not vaccinated.
Acute care facilities will still require patients and visitors to wear masks and screen for COVID-19. Masking and screening will also continue at Saskatchewan Cancer Agency facilities.
The province said pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 schools will return to regular operations for the 2021-2022 school year.
Licensed child-care facilities can return to regular pre-pandemic operations as of July 11.
Part of living with COVID-19 is the province's acknowledgement that there are no vaccines approved for children under 12 at this time.
However, children are not immune to the virus. They can contract, transmit and become ill from COVID-19, although the risk for serious health issues is lower than for older populations.
As a result, the province is urging eligible residents to get fully vaccinated in order to afford those who are unable to get vaccinated the best protection possible.
The province said workplaces and businesses in the province will be guided by Occupational Health and Safety plans.
Businesses and organizations cannot implement mandatory testing, according to the province.
Businesses also cannot require proof of a negative COVID-19 tests before allowing individuals onto the premises. The province said that is because COVID-19 tests are considered a medical procedure and the information is considered private personal health information.
The province said that in most cases workplaces cannot require vaccination or proof of vaccination.