Sask. expands mandatory mask order

Masks must be worn indoors in 59 more Saskatchewan communities, effective Monday, Nov. 16.

A new public health order was issued Nov. 13 and is in place until at least Dec. 4.

Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert were already covered by a mandatory mask order.

Health minister Paul Merriman and chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab announced the new measures in response to a growing number of positive cases and hospitalizations. They urged people to wear masks even in communities not covered by the order.

The full list is available at Saskatchewan.ca/masks.

Merriman said the new measures mean 65 percent of the population is required to wear a mask in public indoor spaces.

He said while case numbers in the province are lower than its neighbouring provinces, they are heading in the wrong direction.

“We need to work now to make sure they don’t climb even higher to the levels we’ve seen next door,” he said.

Other restrictions in place as of Nov. 16 include requiring restaurants and bars to stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m. and for patrons to have consumed it by 11 p.m.

Gym and fitness classes are limited to eight people for those involving aerobic activity. As well, those participants must be able to maintain a three-metre distance.

High schools with 600 students or more are moving to Level 3 in the Safe Schools plan, meaning more online learning.

“Beyond the specific restrictions we are announcing today I want to say this: we all need to take the threat of COVID-19 seriously like we did back in the spring,” said Merriman. “We need to make sure we get back to basics, back to the good practices that allowed us to be successful at controlling the spread (in the spring).”

He said the virus has to be slowed by physical distancing, washing hands, limiting close contacts, avoiding travel and large groups and wearing masks.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat the situation. It’s not great and it’s been getting worse,” he said. “This threat is very well, but I believe we can get it under control if we do the right things.”

Shahab said the province is averaging about 123 cases per day. The test positive rate is six percent and three percent is the point at which public health officials “sit up and take notice,” he said.

If transmission can’t be limited then further restrictions will be necessary, Shahab said.

Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone said the agency activated its emergency operations centre Nov. 12 and it will be fully operational next week.

Staff will have to be redeployed as more hospitalizations and ICU cases are expected over the next two to three weeks. At this point slowing down service is not planned but there could be targeted, limited slow downs, he said.

Dr. Susan Shaw, a chief medical officer and critical care physician, said she sees what the virus is doing on the front lines.

She said she worried about residents’ collective commitment to keeping the health system from being overwhelmed.

“I’m tired, too,” she said of those experiencing COVID fatigue. “Our physicians and staff are tried and yet we come to work to make sure the system is there when you need it.”

She said wearing a mask isn’t hard compared to telling families their loved ones will die.

“Putting on a mask is not a political statement,” Shaw said. “It’s a scientific one and it’s a statement of love.”

Contact karen.briere@producer.com

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