Alberta to ease COVID-19 restrictions for long-term care homes starting on May 10

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Premier Jason Kenney updated Albertans Monday on the vaccine rollout and changes to restrictions at long-term care homes. (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta - image credit)
Premier Jason Kenney updated Albertans Monday on the vaccine rollout and changes to restrictions at long-term care homes. (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta - image credit)

Alberta will ease COVID-19 restrictions at long-term care centres starting on May 10, allowing each resident to designate up to four friends or family members as visitors.

The province will also begin vaccinating children born between 2006 and 2009 with underlying health conditions.

Starting Tuesday, children aged 12 to 15 in Alberta who are at high risk of severe outcomes of COVID-19 can receive the Pfizer vaccine, even though Health Canada has not authorized the vaccine for the age group.

During a news conference Monday, Premier Jason Kenney said active cases in long-term care centres have declined from the peak of 831 on Dec. 27, 2020, to 44 as of April 24.

Hospitalizations among that population have decreased by 93 per cent and fatalities have declined by 94 per cent, Kenney said.

"I want to emphasize that this is a safe and prudent step forward," Kenney said. "We're not getting rid of all of the restrictions at continuing-care facilities. There will continue to be limits on who can visit and how many and strong outbreak protocols will remain in place.

"There are no risk-free options, but we've heard loud and clear from residents and families that they want this change and vaccines are giving us the opportunity to do so."

During the pandemic, residents of care centres have faced the toughest burdens, Kenney said, and have been at the highest risk for severe illness, hospitalization and death. More than 61 per cent of the COVID-19 deaths in the province were residents of continuing care.

"That's more than 1,200 grandfathers, grandmothers, parents, brothers and sisters who lost their lives to this virus," he said. "That's why we first implemented strict restrictions last spring to help limit the spread of the virus and keep residents safe.

"There is no question the restrictions we put in place were necessary and helped to save lives. But we also know that this protection has come at a real cost.

"These folks need joy, hope and connection just like everyone else. From day one, we've committed to doing everything possible to protect continuing-care facilities, but also not leaving measure in place any longer than necessary."

New case numbers

Alberta reported seven more deaths on Monday, including a woman in her 20s in the Edmonton zone and a man in his 40s in the North zone.

Testing confirmed 1,495 new cases of COVID-19, taking active case in Alberta to 20,610.

Hospitals are treating 616 patients from COVID-19, including 145 in ICU beds.

Kenney said the province predicted three weeks ago that active cases would likely reach 20,000 by this point.

"We have seen a decline in the rate of growth, which is good news," he said. "But we have to bend that curve down further, to get the R below one so we start to see the number of daily new cases in total active cases begin to come down, to relieve the pending pressure from our health care system."

Starting May 10, in care centres where the majority of residents agree, indoor social visits will be allowed with up to four visitors from the same household, Kenney said, provided physical distancing, masking and other health measures remain in place.

Outdoor social visits in those facilities will be allowed to expand to up to 10 people, including the resident, double the current limit of five.

The changes are not mandatory, the premier said, and will vary by site based on the design of the building, the wishes of residents and other factors.

The largest source of transmission in Alberta continues to be at home and socializing, Kenney said.

"So, you know, when people call for additional restrictions, I mean, we're not seeing huge outbreaks because of hairstylists who can receive customers, both of them wearing masks, by appointment."