Health measures will start to ease on Feb. 8 starting with restaurants, indoor fitness and some children’s activities.
Premier Jason Kenney announced the four step process of easing restrictions on Friday, Jan. 29.
Each step is based on COVID-19 hospitalization benchmarks, starting with 600, including intensive care patients. This benchmark was reached on Jan. 28.
“Albertans have done a great job of bringing our numbers down from our peak in December. We aren’t out of the woods yet, but there are opportunities where we can safely ease restrictions while also protecting our health-care system,” Kenney said.
Kenney and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, both noted that restrictions would tighten up at any sign of increased hospitalizations.
Hinshaw noted on Feb. 2 that hospitalizations are still continuing to decline with 556 people in hospital care and 97 in intensive care. She also noted the testing positivity rate was 3.5 per cent.
“If cases of COVID-19 surge again, if we start moving once again to exponential growth, like we saw in november and december, and if somehow one of these new viral variants takes hold in our community and begins to spread at rates seen in several parts of the world, we will have to pose stronger restrictions again,” Kenney said.
The first hospitalization benchmark is 600 and declining, then 450 and declining for step two, 300 and declining for step three, and 150 and declining for step four. Moving from one step to another will not be done automatically but be spread out by a minimum of three weeks and a decision to move to the next step will be considered after those three weeks.
“Only as we see hospitalizations fall low enough can we consider additional easing of restrictions,” Hinshaw said.
Indoor masking and distancing requirements will remain in place throughout the entire stepped approach, and some degree of restrictions will still apply to all activities within each step.
Step two includes possible easing of restrictions related to retail, community halls, hotels, banquet halls and conference centres.
Step three includes potential easing of restrictions related to places of worship, adult team sports, museums, art galleries, zoos, interpretive centres, libraries, and indoor seated events like movie theatres and auditoriums, casinos, racing centres and bingo halls.
The final step will include restrictions around indoor entertainment centres, trade shows, conferences, exhibiting events, performance activities, outdoor sporting events, wedding ceremonies and receptions, funeral receptions, work-from-home measures, amusement parks, indoor concerts, sporting events, festivals, and camps.
With the first step, only children’s sport and performance will be permitted if they are related to school activities.
Restrictions around adult indoor fitness will also be eased, including one-on-one training, but not group activities, games, practices, or competitions.
Restaurants, cafes, and pubs will be open but must collect the contact information of one person of each dining party. Only six people from the same household will be allowed at one table. Liquor service ends at 10 pm, while dining must close at 11 pm.
Outdoor social gatherings with up to 10 people were allowed again on Jan. 18, as were personal and wellness service appointments, and funeral service attendance up to 20 people.
Students from kindergarten to grade 12 returned to in-person classes on Jan. 11.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro noted on Jan. 29 that Canada and Alberta will receive less moderna vaccinations than previously expected. It is impossible to know when Alberta will have enough vaccines to roll out to Albertans who are waiting for their vaccine, Shandro said.
Due to these interruptions in vaccine supply, no new first dose appointments will be booked for the next few weeks. As of Feb.1, 107,438 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Alberta, and 17,191 Albertans are fully immunized with two doses.
Alberta continues to monitor for COVID-19 variants and is enhancing the province’s capacity to do genetic analysis on samples. As of Feb. 2, Alberta identified 50 cases of the variant first identified in the United Kingdom and seven cases of the variant first identified in South Africa.
For more info on COVID-19 in Alberta, go to https://www.alberta.ca/coronavirus-info-for-albertans.aspx.
Masha Scheele, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hinton Voice