'Not out of the woods yet': Sask. reopen plan could still be derailed by 'resurgence' of variants, epidemiologist says
SASKATOON -- Health Minister Paul Merriman said he’s hopeful Saskatchewan’s daily case count will stay low so the province can slowly start reopening at the end of the month, but one expert says the plan could easily be upended.
With 70 per cent of people 40-years-and-over vaccinated, the province is planning to expand household bubbles and gathering limits on May 30.
Places of worship and restaurant capacity can also increase, under Step One of the re-open plan.
Merriman said the re-open plan is based on vaccination rates, but officials are also looking at daily COVID-19 cases as an indicator of reopening readiness.
He said so long as new daily cases continue to hover around the 150 mark, the province is on track for the start of reopening.
“I’m very hopeful that we stay in that 100-to-150 range. That would be very encouraging,” he told reporters after Monday’s legislative session.
“If we do see a blip here and there, either up or down, we’re always looking at the seven-day average.”
Cory Neudorf, an epidemiology and community health professor at the University of Saskatchewan, is urging caution around the plan.
He says the rise in COVID-19 variants could change course for the reopen plan.
“We’re now starting to see these variants of concern making up the bulk of cases … there’s still a good chance we could see a resurgence of those variants of concern in the coming weeks,” Neudorf says.
The professor says Saskatoon’s inconsistent daily case count is concerning.
“We were up seeing pretty high numbers last couple of days. They've come down again. This shows that things are still unstable, and the variants of concern are making up a higher and higher proportion of our total cases,” he says.
“So, not out of the woods yet.”
The province said it could pause a step of the reopen plan depending on transmission risk.
The move to reopen comes as Saskatchewan’s neighbours are moving in the opposite direction.
In Alberta, classrooms have shifted online, patios have closed and store capacity has been reduced.
Manitoba has shut-down restaurant dining, bars and gyms.
Merriman said Saskatchewan is in a different place than the provinces to the east and west, but health officials are “keeping a very close eye” on their situation.