Masks and gloves: Elections Saskatchewan preparing for pandemic election

REGINA — Elections Saskatchewan estimates it will need 400,000 face masks and thousands of litres of hand sanitizer and disinfectant to keep people safe at the polls this fall.

The independent body says it's working to source about $425,000 worth of personal protective supplies for a provincial election set for Oct. 26.

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Saskatchewan is the only province with a general election on the books this year, which has seen the world hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and a subsequent economic crisis.

It's also a province with a low infection rate. On Friday, 43 active cases were reported. But health officials have said there are concerns another wave of infections could arrive with cooler temperatures in the fall.

Elections Saskatchewan has said residents will be able to vote by mail, but the plan is for polling stations to be available for anyone wanting to cast a ballot in person.

"At present, we are planning for all of our workers to wear masks and we will encourage all voters to wear one, too," Elections Saskatchewan CEO Michael Boda said in a statement to The Canadian Press.

"Our view is that most people who choose to wear masks will have their own. But we will have an additional supply on hand for those who would like one. If a health order is issued this fall requiring all voters to wear a mask in a public place, we will reassess moving forward."

Election Saskatchewan's shopping list, which is subject to change, includes 400,000 masks, 8,500 litres of disinfectant and another 8,750 litres of hand sanitizer for more than 800,000 registered voters and 13,000 election workers.

More than 6,360 boxes of gloves, 5,200 acrylic shields, and 6,000 rolls of paper towel are also needed.

The Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency is helping the election body source the protective equipment. It plans to divert whatever isn't used into the health-care system.

Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, is being consulted on how to run an election safely, said Boda.

Shahab has said much has been learned from watching people safely shop in retail stores and that he believes there's a way for voters to cast ballots without risking a major spread of infection.

On its website, Elections Saskatchewan says voters will be asked to say two metres apart and will be encouraged to bring their own pens or pencils.

Door-to-door canvassing currently isn't allowed under the province's public-health restrictions. The government said it plans to release health guidelines for door-to-door soliciting early next week.

"You'll definitely see the campaigning continuing to ramp up," said John Tzupa, provincial secretary for the Saskatchewan NDP, which has resumed fundraising and has been holding candidate nomination meetings online.

While the Opposition New Democrats have one-third of their nominations left to complete, the governing Saskatchewan Party has only five constituencies that still need candidates. Executive director Patrick Bundrock said many of the party's candidates have been reaching out to voters via phone.

At this point, he said, there are no plans to host fundraising dinners with Premier Scott Moe or summer barbecues.

"You're looking at events that you would have to follow the health orders on and be very respectful of," said Bundrock.

"You also want to be careful, too, with people's comfort levels."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 11, 2020

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