We have a roadmap to re-Re-Open, Saskatchewan. It seems like a pretty good one, if Premier Scott Moe is right that the key is getting as many vaccines in as many arms as possible.
Moe is likely right that vaccines are critical to success. While his critics may not like his harping on the success in American states — particularly, neighbouring North Dakota — in reducing their COVID-19 cases, through vaccination there’s little that successfully challenges this argument.
That said, right now, we are seeing a neighbour struggle with COVID-19 … although it is our neighbour to the west of us rather than our neighbour to the south.
Alberta has just achieved the unfortunate distinction of having the highest active COVID-19 case rate among Canadian provinces and American states. Regardless of what part of rural or urban Saskatchewan you live in, you don’t need to be reminded how incredibly closely we are connected to Alberta.
It’s where many of our kids, brothers and sisters went to find work years or decades ago. We go there to visit them. And they came home for Mother’s Day last weekend or will be coming home upcoming May long weekend to camp, fish or open up the cottage for the first time this summer.
Given what we witnessed last summer with the outbreak in La Loche that was contact traced to a workcamp outside Fort McMurray or the outbreak on several Saskatchewan Hutterite colonies traced to a funeral on a colony in Alberta, we learned how freely COVID-19 can travel over provincial borders.
For now, though, Moe sees no reason to close the border, arguing the best way to stop the spread is to encourage vaccinations. That’s what his three-step re-opening road map aims to do.
It begins with Step One that will kick in if at least 70 per cent of Saskatchewan residents 40 years and older received at least one vaccination by the end of the month. That we already have about 65-per-cent of that demographic vaccinated as of the writing of this column strongly suggests this will be achieved.
Presuming it is achieved, the Saskatchewan Party government will allow indoor house gatherings of 10 people, restaurants and bars re-opening to tables of six and outdoor events of 150 people.
Next would come Step Two that would end limits on store capacity, dining and fully re-open barber shops and hair salons while allowing as many as 150 people in casinos, bingo halls and theatres. This will all be allowed if we can get 70 per cent of Saskatchewan residents 30 years and older vaccinated by mid- to late-June.
Step Three would see the end to pretty much all existing restricting (perhaps even indoor masking, although that is not existing) by mid-to late July if we have 70 per cent of all adults over 18 years vaccinated with at least one shot.
Moe and his government are offering a pretty big carrot for all people to go and get vaccinated and, somewhat subtly, it’s a bit of a stick for those who might procrastinate when it comes to getting their vaccinations and especially those who are balking at vaccines altogether.
“On one side of that fence, people are living. On the other side of that fence, people are dying,” Moe said.
Those who live in smaller communities will be familiar with the power of such peer pressure, but while vaccines are great, the re-open plan doesn’t really use any other metrics like case numbers, test positivity rates or most importantly — hospitalizations or deaths to measure whether the plan should be stopped or can go forward. And while getting vaccines is clearly the long-term solution, we do have to worry about COVID-19 cases from Alberta and elsewhere.
We have a roadmap, but we’re not out of the woods yet.