Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS

No masks, distancing required: Excitement, trepidation as Saskatchewan fully reopens

REGINA — People are excited but also admitting to trepidation as Saskatchewan becomes the second province to lift its remaining COVID-19 public health restrictions.

As of Sunday, masks and physical distancing are not required, and there are no longer capacity limits on gatherings.

Abigail Bissy-Aluko is an event planner in Saskatoon. She says the full reopening will be good for her business

“We’re looking forward to celebrating with our clients and getting back to work fully,” she said in an interview. “It looks like there’s more hope. I don’t think we’ll be going back to another lockdown, hopefully.”

Bissy-Aluko said her phone has been ringing non-stop with clients wanting to check what dates and venues are available.

“A lot of people are doing birthdays,” she said. “There’s a lot of birthdays and a few weddings here and there.

“And the reason for the spike in birthdays is because most people who had planned a memorable year — like a 30th or 50th — last year postponed it to this year to celebrate.”

Bissy-Aluko said people are excited about meeting with friends and family, but added most of her clients are still taking a cautious approach.

Outdoor venues have been especially popular this summer, she said, because many people don’t feel ready to be part of an unmasked indoor crowd just yet.

Bissy-Aluko herself is feeling “a bit skeptical” about some parts of the reopening.

“I’m hoping we don’t see more cases as a result of people not wearing masks anymore in public,” she said. “We’re definitely trying to still be safe and follow COVID guidelines, but still be able to party and have fun.”

Safety is also top of mind for Tracy Zambory, president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses. The pandemic continues to wear on nurses, she said.

“The members we’ve talked to, they’re exhausted,” she said. “They’re full of anxiety. And they’re really worried about what the future is going to look like.”

Zambory said union members have mixed feelings about removing all of Saskatchewan’s public health restrictions at this point.

“We understand completely the need for people to get back to some sort of normalcy. It’s been a long, long journey through COVID, but we know that we have to urge caution. We can’t just base everything on a vaccination rollout.”

But at the final scheduled COVID-19 briefing on Thursday, Premier Scott Moe said the province is relying on vaccines as a first line of defence. He said falling case numbers mean Saskatchewan is in “a very good place.”

Zambory is worried about the spread of variants and how the number of first doses of vaccines has plateaued. She hopes the province won’t hesitate to bring back restrictions if they’re needed.

“Registered nurses have the lived experience from the beginning of this pandemic,” she said. “We’ve been there every day since the inception. And we don’t care to relive (the days) when the numbers were almost hitting 500 cases a day and we had to bypass intensive care units because they were so full.

“The hope is that … if we start to see an increase in our hospitalizations, the voices of the science and health-care professionals would be heard.”

Saskatchewan cities are revising their guidelines in light of the provincial reopening. In Saskatoon, while masks and physical distancing will no longer be required for most city employees, facilities will keep vinyl and Plexiglas shields in place and do extra cleaning.

The City of Regina will also keep up enhanced sanitation and is encouraging residents to use contactless payment methods rather than cash wherever they can.

On Canada Day, Alberta became the first province to fully reopen.