Almost 15 months into a pandemic that has turned the world upside down, Alberta's top public-health doctor is asking residents to hold fast just a little longer, get past the coming May long weekend and hope for more freedom this summer.
Even with case numbers declining, it's critical people stay as close to home as possible this weekend, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, said Thursday at a news conference.
Those who are heading out for a weekend of camping should stay with members of the same household and make advance preparations, like stocking up at home, to help minimize contact with others, she said.
Continued vigilance is the province's best bet to lower case counts and, in turn, allow for loosened restrictions.
"When we get to the July long weekend, hopefully we will not be needing to have this kind of significant restriction on Albertans, and we can all enjoy the kinds of activities that we have been missing over the past year," she said.
Alberta reported 812 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and four more deaths. Hospitals are treating 665 patients with the illness, including 177 in ICU beds.
"We are gaining momentum, but it is fragile and we cannot afford to take this weekend off from following the rules," Hinshaw said. "That's why I'm asking every Albertan to have fun and stay safe this weekend. Please follow the rules, avoid in-person interactions with people outside your household, especially indoors, and avoid non-essential travel wherever possible.
"If we all stay vigilant and do our part just one more time, this might be the last long weekend when such sacrifices are necessary."
Quarantine rules loosen
Hinshaw also announced that Alberta has adjusted its 14-day quarantine period for people who have received one or more doses of vaccine but have come into close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case.
From now on, Albertans who have been fully vaccinated for at least two weeks will not have to quarantine if they are exposed to a confirmed positive case, providing they don't have symptoms.
If symptoms develop, they will be required to isolate and get a COVID-19 test. If that test is negative, they would not be required to quarantine further.
"While vaccines don't erase all possibilities of infection, the data shows the vaccine reduces the amount of virus in the person's body even if someone does get infected, which further reduces the risk of infection," Hinshaw said.
For people who have received one dose of vaccine, the quarantine period has been reduced to 10 days as long as they don't develop symptoms. As well, if they get a negative result on a PCR test done on day seven or later, the quarantine period is considered complete.
The changes don't apply to people returning from international travel. Those people have to comply with the 14-day quarantine period required under federal law.
"This new quarantine approach within the province will mean less disruption for families, workplaces and schools, while still preventing the spread of COVID-19," Hinshaw said.
"Most importantly, it only applies to those who have received the vaccine. For those who have not gotten any doses, there is no change to the 14-day quarantine period. Regardless of whether someone has had one, two or no doses, all of the other restrictions in place still apply."
There were 17,675 active cases across the province on Thursday.
Laboratories completed about 9,000 tests over the past 24 hours, with a positivity rate of about 9.3 per cent.