Some Sask. families fear loss of support networks due to new COVID-19 gathering restrictions

One Saskatoon mother was brought to tears when she thought of what the next month will be like without the emotional and physical support of her family.

Restrictions come into effect on Thursday

Amanda Sanderson (right) says her family has been instrumental in helping her support her teenager daughter, who is dealing with mental health issues during the pandemic. S (Supplied by Amanda Sanderson )

Amanda Sanderson says she's worried about what the next few weeks will mean for her family.

Sanderson's 17-year-old daughter is living with mental health issues and her parents, alongside her siblings, have been a huge help in terms of both emotional and physical support.

Now, due to COVID-19 restrictions coming into effect on Thursday in Saskatchewan that will see private gatherings limited to five people, that network of support will be no more. 

"It breaks my heart, because they're a huge support for my daughter and they're a huge support for me," she said. 

Sanderson said the province's new restrictions don't make sense, as while there are hard restrictions on private gatherings at households, the government has allowed bars and restaurants to continue to operate.

Outdoor gatherings remain capped at 30 when physical distancing can be maintained, but any gathering of more than five has to take place at a public venue.

On Tuesday, Premier Scott Moe said that while people should stay home and connect remotely as much as possible, people who "absolutely must get together in person" with someone from outside their household should do so at a public venue like a restaurant where restrictions are in place. 

"We know this again is a difficult measure, but we also know that much of the recent spread of COVID-19 has occurred in private gatherings in our homes, right in our households," said Moe. 

The restrictions will be in place for the next four weeks at which time they'll be reassessed.

Fighting back tears, Amanda Sanderson says she's worried about what the next month will mean for her and her family, as the support she's been getting from family with her teenage daughter throughout the pandemic has been huge. (Sreenshot/CBC )

Sanderson said she's worried about what the next month will bring. She said she'd tell Moe to close non-essential businesses before dismantling family support networks. 

"Taking this away from families who need it, especially at this time during the pandemic, is not the right way to do it," she said. 

"It is going to be scary."

Christin Young, who lives in Martensville, was looking forward to what could be one last Christmas with her husband's 93-year-old grandfather, but now with the new restrictions, she's not sure that'll happen.

"If we can only have five people in a gathering then how is Christmas with families possible?" asked Young in a Facebook message. "I don't think the new restrictions are going to be lifted by Dec. 17 at the rate the virus is going, it's going to take months to catch most of it in time." 

Young said she'd like to see better restrictions put in place as soon as possible if Saskatchewan families are going to be able to celebrate Christmas at all, but said there needs to be a balance between keeping the economy going, respecting individual freedoms and keeping people safe.

"We need to be more aware of what is considered an essential business and keep those open and places like restaurants and bars should be shut down," she said. "It doesn't make sense to have a gathering [limit] of five, but it's OK to have schools and businesses open."

Leader of the Opposition NDP Ryan Meili is calling for a three-week circuit breaker to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the province. (Kirk Fraser/CBC )

On Wednesday, the Opposition Sask. NDP proposed a three-week "circuit breaker" to slow the spread of COVID-19, which would include the closure of non-essential businesses, limiting capacity in retail space to 25 per cent and several other restrictions.

NDP leader Ryan Meili called the province's plan on COVID-19 "half-measures" and argued the government has been slow to respond to climbing cases in the province since the election.

"If we want to protect our economy and our businesses, we need to get control of the pandemic," said Meili in a news release. "The choice is not between our health care or our economy — it is between a targeted action now or a much more severe lockdown later."

Active cases in Saskatchewan have climbed by more than 425 per cent in the last month, with 2,099 active cases recorded on Wednesday, compared to 398 cases 30 days earlier.

On Tuesday, Moe said his government would be meeting with fitness, hospitality industry and faith stakeholders to discuss how the province can improve upon the restrictions in place while keeping these businesses and venues safe. 

"This is not a lockdown. This is a slowdown," said Moe.

Paul Merriman, Saskatchewan's Health Minister, said in a statement to reporters Wednesday that he was not interested in the NDP's circuit breaker plan, calling it a "a wide-scale, province-wide shut down" that would put thousands out of work.

"Our government will continue with our cautious, balanced approach," he said in the statement.

Premier Scott Moe and Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab spoke to reporters in the Regina Legislature on Nov. 17, 2020. (Saskatchewan Media Pool)

Marcie Dupuis is a counsellor who specializes in family dynamics. She said that while the new restrictions may be difficult for some families, it's important for people to remember they went through this experience before back in March.

"Remembering that your family got through it," she said. "That there were lots of video calls and phone calls and although it was hard and stressful and scary, the family got through it together and everyone made it through."

Getting outside, even if it's really cold, even if it's for 10 minutes, that fresh air can do a whole lot for everybody's mental health.- Marcie Dupuis, Counsellor 

Dupius also stressed it's important for family members to try and be patient with each other over the next 28 days, as these types of restrictions affect everyone differently. She said one of the ways to ensure things are kept light through the slow down is to plan smaller events that spur excitement, noting even a weekly movie night or outdoor activity can help.

"It's really just the small things you can focus on for the kids and really blow up a little bit more than you would before, because those are the things that you guys are going to be doing together," she said. "Getting outside, even if it's really cold, even if it's for 10 minutes, that fresh air can do a whole lot for everybody's mental health."

She said that for those families who have to break the news to a loved-one they won't be able to visit, it's good to focus on what can still be done, as opposed to what's been taken off the table.

"Really, focusing on what can happen versus what can't," she said, pointing out research that has found video calls, especially with a small child, can help spur a connection. 

Dupuis said people who are struggling should reach out to a counsellor, as having a neutral listening ear can be beneficial.

"It could be a really good way to get yourself and your family through this," she said.

(CBC News Graphics)

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