Saskatchewan expands proof of vaccine or negative test mandate to include fast food outlets and retail liquor stores

woman holding phone with QR code

As of October 18, all seated dining establishments in the province including fast food will be required to collect proof of a negative test or vaccination from patrons.

The province announced the expanded public health order on Oct. 15, along with the requirement for retail liquor sales and stores with an integrated permit that includes a restaurant or tavern.

"We still have high case numbers,'' said Dr. Saqib Shahab, Chief Medical Officer for the province. "If our numbers stay as high as they are, it may not be sustainable for the health system and suddenly if we see a bump after thanksgiving.''

There has been some flattening in the amount of new cases, but hospitalizations generally lag spikes in case numbers by a week or two.

Shahab said that while Saskatchewan now has 84% of eligible people with a first dose of vaccine and 75% with two doses, the province is still behind where it needs to be.

"Many provinces in Canada are in the high 90s now many large urban areas in the high 90s with the first dose and second dose,'' he said. "I don't want to accept that we in Saskatchewan should be behind anyone. It doesn't matter if you live rural or northern. There's no excuse not to get vaccinated.''

There are some exemptions to the requirement that businesses must ask for vaccination or negative test proof, such as grocery stores, businesses with an integrated liquor license that do not also run a tavern or restaurant, integrated cannabis permit holders, places of worship including weddings and funerals, personal, health or professional services, libraries, hotels or lodging with self-serve food options, amateur sporting events and private gatherings at public venues or private gatherings at private residences.

While the new cases have dropped slightly, a change attributed to the re-introduction of the mandatory mask indoors requirement a month ago and increase in first doses, hospitalizations remain high with 335 people receiving inpatient care and 78 receiving intensive care.

The Sask. Public Safety Agency was given the job of co-ordinating the provincial response including logistics - last week. They are still looking beyond the provincial borders in a `just in case' scenario should the current capacity of 130 ICU beds not be enough.

"We have been in contact with Manitoba regarding out of province patient transfers,'' said Marlo Pritchard, president of the SPSA. "This process is about pre-planning and ensuring there is a seamless process in place.''

Pritchard confirmed that four million rapid tests are expected to be delivered in November and they are working on securing another four million in December.

The province plans to make rapid tests widely available - including in schools and homes - as a way to slow the spread of the very contagious Delta variant.

"While these tests to not diagnose COVID-19 they are effective in screening people who may be COVID positive but asymptomatic and require further investigation,'' said Pritchard.

People who receive a positive rapid test need to call 811 for further instructions on getting a PCR test. The province is no longer routinely testing exposed people who have no symptoms as a way to husband resources.

By 8 am on Oct. 16, all 44,000 SHA staff are expected to have submitted their plan to either be vaccinated or to enter the self-testing program.

So far, 1,000 volunteers and student along with 39,000 staff have declared their intention with the vast majority indicating they are or will be vaccinated.

"98 per cent of SHA employees are vaccinated. One per cent have opted in for the negative test option. One per cent will be using medical/religious reasons but still need to provide a negative test,'' said Shahab.

Failure to opt in to one or the other is a violation of the policy and can result in consequences as far as dismissal.

"It's a policy within the organization that individuals must either be vaccinated or they must enter the testing program or they must otherwise have an exemption for religious or medical accommodation reasons. Those individuals would also have to participate in the testing program,'' Miller said.

Anyone who opts to provide a proof of a negative test must have one that has been paid for by a private company and it must be less than 72 hours old.

It cannot be a provincially-funded or self-administered rapid test.

Miller said the province is in the process of confirming which private companies will be offering testing and interested parties can contact them through the provincial website.

First doses of vaccine continue to climb, a sign that Shahab takes some heart from.

Many are people who thought that a medical condition meant they should not receive the vaccine.

``In fact there are hardly any contraindications to the vaccine and many people were hesitant because they had a medical condition and they thought they shouldn't get vaccinated. It's actually the other way around. Any medical condition puts you at higher risk,'' he said.

The vaccine verifier app can be downloaded by anyone and Shahab encouraged people to do so.

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