Feel good about your information and become a local news champion today

Alberta COVID-19 health restrictions rolled out as coronavirus cases mount

Amid skyrocketing COVID-19 cases in Alberta, the province has announced new public health measures to help prevent the ongoing spread.

In addition, Premier Jason Kenney announced a new public health state of emergency for Alberta.

Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw has said in recent days that the spike in cases has outstripped their ability to contact trace. The number of patients in Intensive Care Units has also jumped, with 62 in ICU and 328 in hospital. The province reported 1,549 cases Monday.

On Tuesday, it was 1,115 cases. Dr. Hinshaw said this was due to fewer tests. Positivity rate rose to eight per cent.

“This is like a snowball rolling down a hill, growing bigger and faster, and it will continue unless we implement strong measures to stop (it). We must take action,” Dr. Hinshaw said during Monday’s briefing.

“Waiting any longer will impact our ability to care for Albertans in the weeks and months ahead.”

Alberta also had the highest number of active COVID-19 cases as of Monday, with 13,166. Ontario was next at 12,917.

New public health restrictions

Premier Kenney said that they held an eight-hour meeting to discuss the new proposals. They wanted to balance the broader health and livelihood concerns.

The following public health measures were announced Tuesday.

  • Masks will be mandatory in indoor workplaces in Calgary and Edmonton and surrounding areas. This includes any location where employees are present, and applies to visitors, including delivery personnel, and employees or contractors.
  • Students K to 6 will continue in-school learning but will begin winter break Dec. 18 and return to classes Jan. 11. In-home learning will be done starting the week of Jan. 4.
  • Students Grades 7 to 12 will begin online learning Nov. 30, end Dec. 18 and return to in-person classes on Jan. 11. In-home learning will be done the week of Jan. 4 to Jan. 8.
  • Restaurant rules will continue in enhanced areas (Edmonton / Calgary or others with 50 cases per 100K) – NEW: Dining in restaurants/bars, etc. can only be done with members of one’s household, in enhanced areas.
  • No indoor social gatherings (including workplaces); outdoor social gatherings are allowed, with a maximum of 10 persons.
  • Funerals and weddings – Max 10 people.
  • Faith Services: 1/3 of capacity, mandatory masking
  • All customer facing businesses will be limited to 25 per cent of fire occupancy limits.

“This pandemic is a once in a century public health challenge, and it has impacted every one of us in many different ways,” said Premier Kenney.

There’s a lot of nuance in the new rules. Here’s Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro with more details (9 mins).

More details are available at the province’s website.

Enforcement issues in cities

Previously, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi had said that Calgary had little role in enforcement once the province’s public health state of emergency lapsed in the summer.

According to Calgary Emergency Management Agency Chief Tom Sampson, they petitioned the province to reinstate enforcement orders.

In a lunch break during city budget deliberations, Mayor Nenshi told reporters that he expected new public health orders from the province would also deal with cities’ enforcement powers.

Calgary city council will get a closed door briefing from Chief Sampson after the provincial announcement Tuesday.

In a media release Tuesday evening the City of Calgary said they support the new measures.

“The City of Calgary supports all efforts to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 to save lives and protect the healthcare system,” the release read.

“We are currently working through the new provincial public health guidelines to understand the impacts on our own operations and facilities. More information on specific programs and services will be updated on Calgary.ca/covid19.

“The City will be working closely with The Province to determine how we can support at the local level, including enforcement of Public Health Orders.”

Has the COVID-19 strategy to this point failed?

Premier Jason Kenney was asked if these further public health measures meant the initial targeted ones were a failure. Alberta has had the least stringent measures to battle rising COVID-19 cases in the so-called second wave.

Premier Kenney said they’ve led in their response to the pandemic since the beginning. They were the best prepared with personal protective equipment and robust contact tracing.

“We’ve always said we would address this as the situation unfolded,” the Premier said Tuesday.

“You ask why are we taking even more stringent measures? The answer is we are trying to bend down the curve. Alberta is not involved in a chase after zero, because in our view, the broader consequences for the health of our society would be intolerable to try to get to zero with a widespread shutdown.”

‘Half measures’ says Alberta opposition leader

Alberta’s Official Opposition leader, Rachel Notley said the province has been waiting for 12 days, with the Premier in hiding, to get these “half measures.”

“Today’s announcement is simply not enough. It’s the product of political bargaining inside the UCP and not the product of a serious engagement with public health advice,” Notley said.

Specifically around schools, Notley said that no thought has been given to the supports that might be needed for those with complex needs.

“In July, our caucus proposed a 15-point plan to ensure Alberta had safe schools and smaller class sizes in September,” Notley said.

“The UCP refused to implement it, claiming schools were safe and not the source of community spread. To date, we’ve seen more than 500 schools with cases of COVID-19. There are thousands of students, teachers and staff in isolation as we speak.”

Premier Kenney said many of these measures would be in place until mid-December. Should they not help in bending the curve in COVID-19 cases down, Albertans should expect further tightening of public health measures.