Saskatchewan's Chief Medical Health Officer released a new public health order (PHO) on Wednesday, June 16, 2021 that provides additional information and directives related to self-isolation for COVID-19. The PHO was updated to lift many of the current capacity restrictions on businesses and gatherings. The PHO came into effect on June 16, 2021, to correspond with Step 2 of Saskatchewan's Re-Opening Roadmap.
The new PHO allows Medical Health Officers to provide exemptions to the requirement to self-isolate for people who are close contacts of a COVID-19 case, depending on the person's vaccination status or whether they qualify as an essential service provider.
Determining Vaccination Status and Exemptions
For the purposes of the PHO, a person's vaccination status is determined based on the length of time between receiving a dose of the vaccine and the time the person is exposed to COVID-19. A "fully vaccinated" person has received a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days before exposure in a two dose series or it has been at least 14 days after the first dose of a single dose series. A "partially vaccinated" person has received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine (in a two-dose series) at least 14 days before exposure, or has received a second dose less than 14 days before the exposure.
The PHO provides that Medical Health Officers may exempt the following people from the requirement to self-isolate:
- A fully vaccinated person who shows no signs or symptoms of COVID-19, or
- A partially vaccinated person who provides an essential service (as set out in the PHO), if the person's inability to provide that service would create a safety risk to the public.
Essential services include health care and public health, law enforcement, public safety, first responders, and government and community services. Appendix A to the PHO includes a full list of listed essential services that may qualify for exemptions from self-isolation.
The exemption will not apply to anyone with symptoms of COVID-19. If a person who was initially exempted develops signs or symptoms of COVID-19, they must immediately self-isolate for 14 days from their last exposure and call HealthLine 811 and follow the HealthLine directives.
Exemptions from mandatory self-isolation are not automatically applied and are at the discretion of the Medical Health Officers. The Saskatchewan Government has stated that discretion to allow an exemption may include consideration of whether a person is a high risk for increased transmission or whether a person lives in an area at a higher risk for outbreaks.
Employers Disclosing Personal Health Information
The PHO has important implications for employers regarding the disclosure of personal health information. Under the PHO, employers conducting contact tracing may need to determine whether vaccinated employees are close contacts. Employers may also consider keeping COVID-19 protocols in place so that a Medical Health Officer would be more likely to grant an exemption.
The requirement to disclose vaccination status to employers is still a live issue. Employers may want to consider policies that inquire as to vaccine status of employees if the need for contact tracing emerges. Whether policies should be mandatory or based on voluntary disclosure is an important question, and employers should carefully consider the legal consequences of implementing a mandatory disclosure policy as part of their COVID-19 protocols, taking into account the needs and circumstances of the workplace and workforce.
Note: New Public Health Order - June 20
Note that a new PHO came into force as of 12:01 a.m. on June 20, 2021 to remove many of the capacity restrictions currently in place for retail stores, restaurants and other businesses, as well as certain events. In addition to the change on self-isolation contained in the June 16, 2021 PHO, the June 20 PHO increases the cap on private gatherings from 10 to 15 people and allows public gatherings of up to 150 people. For specific changes, stay tuned for our upcoming blog on the implementation of Step 2 of the Re-Opening Roadmap.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.