While this is clearly not the Christmas all Saskatchewan residents want to be spending, public health orders are in place to limit holiday gatherings in order to prevent a future spike in COVID-19 totals.
“We are asking you, stick to your own household for Christmas, connect online with other family members and friends, visit outdoors if you can. Have a quiet Christmas,” Health Minister Paul Merriman said during a press conference on December 22.
Merriman noted that holiday visiting, large family gatherings to share traditional Christmas meals, and other seasonal celebration are the very activities that could make Christmas very dangerous and lead to a huge spike in cases in early 2021.
In order to control the spread of COVID during the holiday season, the province has mandated that private, indoor gatherings are limited to immediate household members only. Single individuals are permitted to meet with one, consistent household of less than five individuals.
Saskatchewan has experienced a drop in case numbers after a late November and early December period of COVID growth, with the provincial seven day average decreasing from 263 a week ago to 217 as of December 22.
“What we are doing is working, but we have to keep doing it,” Merriman said of the Public Health Orders in place over the holiday season. “Household contacts are still one of the main sources of transmission, so we know that large gatherings at Christmas would almost certainly result in a large spike in cases.”
“Again I know this is not the Christmas we wanted. I can assure you there is no one in our government who would be asking you to do this, to spend Christmas this way, if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. But it is necessary.”
“2020 is going to be a quite Christmas and New Year. But 2021 is going to be a way better year,” Merriman said.
Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Health Officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab admitted Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 numbers are beginning a downward trend, crediting all people in the province for taking the necessary precautions to slow outbreaks.
“Everything has been calmed down, slowed down, and our numbers are showing that.”
With a drop in the seven day average, slowing the rate of transmission to 17.9 cases per 100,000, and dropping the daily test positive rate down to 7.9 are all encouraging statistics.
“There’s some positive trends on all indicators, so it’s really important to sustain that downward trend for the next two to three weeks.”
However, from December 18 to December 22, there have now been 20 deaths across Saskatchewan, which reinforces the need for the current public health orders.
“This will be a different Christmas, but many people have made plans to remain connected with friends and family in Saskatchewan and other parts of Canada and the world. If you have friends and family in the community where you live, many people are planning to be outdoors. The weather seems to be not that bad, so you can go and meet and greet people from a distance outdoors in groups up to 10. Otherwise it’s so important to be out and about, and weather permitting for physical activity, for your own mental health and wellness. It is so important to check in with friends, neighbours, family, either virtually if they live far away, or maybe just knocking on their door and saying hi without going into their house. That physical connection, while maintaining physically distant, is going to be so important over the holidays,” Dr. Shahab said.
In order to keep transmission rates low and to slow COVID-19 hospitalizations, the province is counting on citizens to continue to take the lead in keeping themselves and those around them safe.
“Saskatchewan people are doing an amazing job of compliance with the public health orders. We have some people that are not adhering to that, and again we encourage them to comply with the public health orders that are out there,” Merriman said. “I really trust the Saskatchewan people to be able to comply with what’s going on. They understand that this is for their safety, their neighbours safety, and their families safety.”
“We are very much relying on the people of Saskatchewan for compliance. Our weekly seven day average went from 263 down to 217 with minimal enforcement. So it is working with compliance. People in Saskatchewan are complying and the numbers are starting to come down. And I’m hopeful and I’m very optimistic, and I have a lot of faith in the Saskatchewan people that they will be able to adhere to these guidelines – even though they are challenging over the Christmas time – and we all recognize that.”
Dr. Shahab agreed the opportunity for a post-holiday spike in COVID numbers exists if people do not adhere to the public health orders.
“Absolutely the risk right now of transmission in the household setting is much much higher than it was over Thanksgiving and Halloween. And that’s why the recommendations and Public Health Orders right now are very specific. Please do not meet indoors in your house with outside of your own household – apart from those few specific exceptions.”
“Travel to stay with another family member, things that are common over the holidays, are absolutely not recommended or allowed.”
“Compliance with this going to be critical because we have achieved a lot over the last three or four weeks while still being able to remain fairly open in terms of being able to have the retail sector open, being able to go to a restaurant. This has been achieved through every Saskatchewan resident taking reasonable measures to keep themselves, their friends and family safe. And that is going to be absolutely important throughout the holidays. If we can keep this over the next two or three weeks we will be in a much better position in 2021.”