Sask. must have firm message when relaxing COVID-19 restrictions, public policy prof says
SASKATOON -- As the weather gets warmer and the province plans on gradually reopening services and businesses, an assistant professor at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy in Regina says it’s important for the government to keep people’s attention and be as specific as possible in guiding their behaviour.
“It’s going to be very important to have specific tools and visuals in mind to help us keep that safe distance,” said Cheryl Camillo, who is also the director of the Master of Health Administration program.
This includes having signage in public spaces reminding people to practice physical distancing and to wear a mask, she said.
- COVID-19 updates for Saskatoon and area for Wednesday, April 29
- Shoppers at Beauval General Store in northern Sask. urged to self-isolate after positive COVID-19 test
- U of S plans temporary layoffs due to COVID-19, will top up CERB income
The province announced its Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan last Thursday, with the first phase expected to take place on May 4. The province still urges people to take extra precautions.
Camillo said she believes the messaging from the provincial government and public health officials has been fairly good throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s been consistent. We all know now what physical distancing means, what social distancing means and we are fairly well educated on the virus.”
However, she said she’s noticed that some people are seeking clarity on the province’s plan to reopen.
Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab provided some clarification on the rules during a press conference on Monday.
He said it’s still important for people to practice physical distancing when out and to stay home as much as possible.
“That remains important throughout Saskatchewan all the time even though we go out and enjoy the outdoors ... those basic principles remain essential all the time because otherwise we can very quickly see a ramp up in case numbers anywhere in Saskatchewan,” Shahab said.
The reopening plan also allows for people to begin meeting with friends and family outside their household in groups of under 10 people, to create something called a “virtual household.”
However, Shahab said extra caution needs to be taken with that as well.
“We need to be cautious if we do that that it is the same one or two people or same one or two families that are connected and not a random two or three different people every time because if we don’t do that, our curve overall will not remain flat and we will not be able to continue with our reopening plans.”
Premier Scott Moe echoed Shahab during a news conference on Wednesday.
“If anyone is taking the Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan as a signal to relax your personal responsibility to maintain good physical distancing practices, that is a complete misinterpretation of what we’re saying. We must all do our part to continue flattening the curve,” Moe said.
Camillo said she noticed some initial confusion among the public surrounding this message, and said it’s important for the province to be direct about what people need to do in order to keep themselves and others safe when meeting up.
“I think very specific and clear guidelines not only for who you can meet up with, who you can barbecue with, but also when you do meet up with people how to keep that distance whether they’re people you’re familiar with or people in the community you don’t know that you encounter outdoors whether in a shop or outside,” Camillo said.
She adds that moving forward, both provincial and federal health agencies should consider integrating humour into public service announcements to keep people engaged.
“Perhaps the next round of ads employs some humour. It might have Hayley Wickenheiser in her role as coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs development squad going over to the bench, holding her 6 foot long hockey stick out and saying you guys aren’t six feet apart so one of you has to go to the penalty box.”
Camillo said the government also needs to actively solicit input and feedback from geographic, economic, social and cultural communities across the province to ensure they are factoring everyone’s needs into their messaging as well as identifying and delivering supports.
“There may be things that some don’t think of but are really important considerations or barriers and there could be ideas for how to support people so that they can go back to work.”