North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum lifted a state-wide mandatory mask order on Jan. 18, with the state having brought its COVID-19 new case numbers down to a level lower than Saskatchewan’s. That state, which had among the worst COVID-19 numbers for the entire United States for the previous three months, has remarkably turned things around.
On Jan. 21, Manitoba also announced a slight easing it its public health restrictions, restrictions that were much more severe than Saskatchewan.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister tweeted on that day, “Today is a day of hope and optimism. We’re announcing a few modest changes to our #COVID19MB restrictions that will allow increased personal connections and economic activity while ensuring we continue #ProtectingManitobans.”
Manitoba will now allow two visitors to a household, 10 people plus the officiant at a funeral, and retail establishments to sell items beyond what was considered “essential.”
These neighbouring jurisdictions were able to do so as they had both brought down their new COVID-19 cases down considerably.
On North Dakota’s day of lifting its mask mandate, they had 69 new cases, and by Jan. 21, their seven-day average of new cases was 147. On Nov. 14, 2020, North Dakota’s seven-day average peaked at 1,389.1.
On Jan. 21, Manitoba’s seven-day average was 163. On Jan. 13 they had 90 new cases, and on Jan. 19, they had 111 new cases. For the past three weeks, both saw their seven-day averages less than 200, and generally around 160 to 170.
Saskatchewan, however, has had nearly double that over the last two weeks. From Jan. 10 to Jan. 21, Saskatchewan’s seven-day average of new cases hovered between 289.1 and 317.6. On Jan. 21, it was 286.1, with 227 new cases reported that day, and a record number of deaths for one day, at 13.
Premier Scott Moe said in a Facebook post on Jan. 21, “Sadly, we are reporting that 13 Saskatchewan residents who tested positive for COVID-19 have died. I would like to extend my condolences to the friends and family of each of these individuals.
“While Saskatchewan’s case numbers continue to decrease and we continue to deliver the vaccine at a high rate, reporting the highest number of deaths in a single day since the beginning of the pandemic is a somber reminder of the need to reduce the spread of this deadly virus by following all public health orders and guidelines that are in place.”
At the regular COVID-19 briefing on Jan. 19 in the Legislature, both Premier Scott Moe and chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab were asked about what North Dakota is doing better than Saskatchewan, and if they should be removing their mask mandate.
Shahab said he’s been following North Dakota, which is similar in some ways to Saskatchewan, with a fairly rural population. He noted, “They were in dire straits by the end of October, early November.”
“That’s the lesson; that when there’s high compliance with all the public health measures, things change very quickly. And I think that’s the main lesson from North Dakota, but also, we’ve seen that in Saskatchewan. We’ve seen that in our neighboring provinces. High compliance through public health measures, restrictions, but also the high compliance by all of us, dramatically changes the course of the pandemic. So, that’s what we saw in mid-December. That’s really what we want to see right now,” Shahab said.
Moe said of the measures implemented south of the border a few months ago, “Apparently they have been effective. There’s obviously been mass adherence to the measures that Governor (Doug) Burgum had put in place.
“I’ve talked to Governor Burgum a number of times throughout this pandemic, with respect to some of the challenges that we’ve seen, north and south of the border, and their numbers have come down markedly. And that is through people doing the right thing, and taking their individual responsibility very, very seriously.”
He added that the last time he checked, North Dakota was in excess of five per cent of its population having been vaccinated. “In fact, I think it’s a few months ago, we were talking about North Dakota having the highest per capita rate of COVID infections in North America. I believe if they’re now leading North America on the vaccination rates, or are very close to it. And so, they have had a very robust ambitious and aggressive vaccination program. I know in one day they had over 300 vaccination sites operating in North Dakota. So they’ve been very ambitious, with respect to procuring vaccines and making them available to North Dakotans, and I think that speaks to the importance of us having access to a large number of vaccines, as soon as possible, ultimately, finding our way through this COVID-19 pandemic and finding our way back to some degree of normal in our communities.”