COVID challenge: Alberta premier urges end to house parties as infections rise

·3 min read

EDMONTON — Premier Jason Kenney is strongly urging Albertans to stop holding house parties and get-togethers to bend the curve on sharply rising COVID-19 cases.

Alberta reported just over 1,400 new cases over the last two days, and Kenney said Friday the province is at “a turning point" and more stringent measures may come if this initiative fails.

“It’s voluntary,” Kenney told a news conference.

“This is a strong request that Albertans in Edmonton and Calgary stop holding social gatherings at their homes, that they just keep to their core family group at home, period.

“We’re not going to be sending out police to monitor this,” he added.

“This is appealing to people to exercise personal and collective responsibility so that we can avoid having to use more stringent measures.”

He said about 40 per cent of identified cases in the big cities trace back to house parties and social gatherings. 

Kenney announced the existing limit of 15 people at most public gatherings in Edmonton and Calgary is being expanded to other communities, most of them in and around those two cities.

These gatherings include banquets, wedding receptions and dinner parties.

He also urged Albertans to be vigilant but compassionate if they see someone with COVID symptoms putting themselves or others at risk.

“If you know someone who is symptomatic, reach out them,” he said. 

“Everybody has a role to play, not in calling up the police and ratting people out but just personally intervening on a friendly basis to say, ‘Hey, if you feel that you’ve got a cold, you should really go home and get tested.’”

Alberta has seen its daily COVID case counts rise sharply in recent weeks. It reported a record-high 802 cases Thursday and another 609 cases Friday.

There are 171 people in hospital, 33 of them in intensive care. Alberta has had 352 deaths.

Kenney’s government locked down large parts of the economy after COVID-19 took hold in Canada in March, shutting down retailers, movie theatres, libraries, schools, hair salons, restaurants and other services.

Many of those were reopened with restrictions in May and June, and schools followed in September — all with health restrictions.

Kenney acknowledged there are calls to impose further lockdown measures, as in other provinces.

But he said that solution now would make things worse, snipping the financial lifelines of some businesses, including restaurants, which are hanging by a thread.

The pragmatic and realistic goal, he said, is to keep infections under control while waiting for a vaccine.

“Our goal is not to take COVID-19 to zero. Our goal is to keep the spread under control so it doesn’t overwhelm the health-care system without hammering our broader social, economic, mental and physical health."

Kenney said officials are taking other steps, including work to hire 380 more contact tracers to supplement 800 already working on a full-time, part-time or casual basis.

The premier also said his United Conservative government will continue with its own contact tracing app rather than signing onto the federal version, as the Alberta one as designed is more effective.

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley doesn’t want to see an economic lockdown either, but said Kenney’s announcement again failed to take the steps needed to avoid extreme solutions down the road.

“This has been a total failure on multiple fronts by this premier to take this public health threat seriously,” said Notley.

She said Kenney could move far faster to hire 500 more contract tracers to reach the level needed to effectively reduce caseloads.

“Why don’t we have enough contact tracers in a province with hundreds of thousands of unemployed people?” she asked.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2020.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press