Experts offer advice now that Sask. restrictions are gone

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Asking friends and family about their vaccination status or openly proclaiming your own may feel like a taboo conversation, but some experts say talking openly about vaccines is just one way life should be different now that Saskatchewan is restriction-free.

Premier Scott Moe and Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province’s chief medical health officer, have both emphasized that the disappearance of restrictions does not mark the disappearance of COVID-19.

Cordell Neudorf, a University of Saskatchewan professor of community health and epidemiology, called the next few months a “transition time” as people return to normal life, but cases of COVID-19 continue to be reported. Now that people are allowed to gather without limits and without masks, Neudorf expects to see clusters of new cases emerge, especially among young people, who are less likely to be vaccinated.

What should normal life look like in a province without restrictions, but where COVID-19 is still very much present?

For starters, talking about vaccine status needs to become normal, said Nazeem Muhajarine, who is also a U of S professor of community health and epidemiology.

“We have to really normalize getting a vaccine in this province and in this country. It should not be a secret,” Muhajarine said, noting that sharing vaccine information helps people make informed decisions about how they want to socialize.

“You should be glad that you’re fully vaccinated because what you’re saying is that you are safe.”

But making decisions based off of vaccine information isn’t a possibility in large crowds.

In those spaces, Neudorf said the best personal protection is obviously to be fully vaccinated. Choosing to wear a mask, maintaining physical distance and sanitizing your hands often can serve as additional layers of protection.

Check what your workplace is doing, as some are choosing to keep certain restrictions like masking. When going to a business or event, Neudorf encouraged people to follow the rules laid out by that business.

“Some businesses are choosing to maintain certain restrictions and that is an individual business’ decision to make and they have reasons for doing that,” he said.

Without government restrictions, Muhajarine said some of the responsibility now falls on employers and event planners to keep their customers and staff safe.

“Encourage people to take precaution rather than actually sort of throw caution to the wind at this time,” he recommended.

Staying home when sick also needs to remain common practice, and anyone with symptoms should continue to be tested for COVID-19.

Shahab said during a Wednesday news conference that heading out to work or social events like birthday parties while feeling under the weather is still not a good idea.

“That’s what needs to be different this year,” he said.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority is continuing its testing, contact tracing and vaccination efforts.

Muhajarine and Neudorf stressed the importance of more people continuing to get both their first and second shots. While

Saskatchewan sat at 72 per cent of its population 12 and over with a first dose as of Friday, both wanted to see that number rise to between 80 and 85 per cent to really kick COVID-19 to the curb.

Neudorf also recommended that people stay on top of the number of new cases being reported in their region to watch for nearby outbreaks.

“There may be times when it’s more important to still be wearing a mask and doing physical distancing in certain communities just because we’re having a bit of an upsurge,” he said.

“It’s not just open season. We haven’t magically gone back to zero risk. We’re just at a lower level of risk than we were before, so there are still things you can do. It’s still in your control to avail yourself of those protective measures that you can adopt personally.”

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