Skip to main content

From mandatory to optional: Businesses, healthcare workers react to removal of mask mandate

For the first time in five months on Monday, customers could walk into a restaurant in Saskatchewan and not have to wear a mask.

Saskatchewan’s public health order expired Monday at midnight, which removes all self-isolation requirements and makes masks optional inside most public spaces.

“I think most people that come in are happy to see it getting back more to normal and not having to worry about wearing a mask all the time,” said Matt Dean, co-owner and general manager at Cathedral Social Hall in Regina.

Like many businesses across the province, Dean is giving both customers and staff the option to wear a mask or ditch it.

“Some people are walking in without; some people are still keeping them on. We’re seeing a little bit of a mix,” Dean said during the Monday lunch rush.

“Our staff is obviously having to adjust to it. Some are wearing one, some aren’t and we are here to supply them with one if they need.”

While masks are now optional in most settings, visitors will still need to wear one inside all Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) facilities including hospitals and long-term care homes.

Anyone who refuses to wear a mask may be denied entry.

“To ensure the safety of clients, staff and physicians, anyone entering an SHA facility is required to wear a medical grade face mask,” the health authority said in a statement.

“This is needed reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our facilities and to protect our most vulnerable patients.”

Even though COVID-19 mandates are ending, infectious disease physician Dr. Alex Wong is reminding people that the pandemic is not over.

“There is still a huge amount of Omicron being transmitted across the province,” Wong said, adding much of the spread is now taking place in rural areas.

According to Wong, a return to normal is not possible. Instead, society needs to find a new normal by adopting behaviours used throughout the pandemic.

He said it is “critically important” for everyone to do their best to protect one another, which includes wearing a mask, getting a booster dose, rapid testing, staying home when sick and washing your hands.

“Regardless of what is mandated by the government, I think these are good things to do to help at a societal level to maintain our hospitals and our ICUs,” Wong said, adding hospitals are packed with COVID-positive patients.

“Some of those people are sick from COVID, other people are just COVID-positive and inside the hospital for other reasons, but it still places a lot of strain on our system,” he said.

Tracy Zambory, president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses, said many nurses are concerned there will be an “explosion of cases” similar to the last time all public health measures were lifted.

“We’d found ourselves in the deadliest spot we had been so far,” Zambory said of the fourth wave.

“We’re very fearful this is what we’re going to see in the summer of 2022.”

Province renews emergency order

Saskatchewan renewed its state of emergency order due to continued strain on the healthcare system. The order gives the provincial government power to re-direct healthcare workers to address hospital pressures.

Zambory questions why an emergency order is necessary when restrictions are being removed.

“That really doesn’t compute. It’s not making sense,” Zambory said.

According to Zambory, some registered nurses are still redeployed to intensive care units and COVID wards.

She said the system is facing a “health human resource crisis,” some emergency rooms are over capacity and rural healthcare services are being disrupted. She said re-directing staff through the emergency order will not fix the problem.

“Rather than creating a concrete health human resource strategy, it seems like the leadership in this province wants to control healthcare workers,” Zambory said.

“That does not help with morale.”

According to Premier Scott Moe, the emergency order will be lifted when there is no longer a need to redeploy healthcare workers to other areas. Top Stories

Stay Connected