Forward plan revealed

·3 min read

This will be the second time going through re-entry phases since the pandemic started. However, this time, the planned stages are more definitive with concrete numbers compared to the last stages. In the meantime, we have to hold out and remain optimistic as we go through each of the four steps.

As indicated by health officials, restrictions can begin easing in steps. The government’s focus is to have the numbers of hospitalized COVID cases decline to numbers that are manageable throughout the “Forward Plan.” The number of hospitalizations needed to be under 600 province-wide before initiating the first step. As of January 31, there were 556, which contributed to the confirmation to begin rolling out the plan. Each step is indicative of the benchmark number of hospitalizations set out by health officials. Providing the numbers continue to decline, and remain there, the provincial government will ease more restrictions. If there's another spike, the stages would extend or be placed on hold until such time the hospitalization numbers become manageable again.

Many residents, restaurant and pub owners were ecstatic with the recent announcement and the roll-out of Step 1 in the Forward Plan, which began Monday, February 8, 2021. While all other health restrictions are still in effect, individuals from the same household or your two close contacts for those who live alone can now enjoy that perfect dine-in meal. As for sports, Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw initially indicated the only acceptable activities are extra-curricular activities related to the K-12 grade schools or post-secondary students. The sport and fitness restrictions didn’t last long as the provincial government later announced on Saturday, February 6 that children under the age of 18 years old could return to hockey or dance training sessions. The announcement was unexpected, but a happy one for many dance studios and minor hockey teams.

Once hospitalization numbers remain in the benchmark for at least three weeks, health officials will consider moving on to the next step. The target number to initiate step 2 is 450 or fewer hospital patients. Providing everything goes well, step 2 will include easing some of the current restrictions for retail, community halls, conference centres, hotels and additional easements for indoor fitness and children’s sport and performances.

As we move through each of the four steps, the hospitalization numbers must drop in increments of a minimum of 150 cases and stabilize before moving on. A peek into stage 3 will see restrictions ease for libraries, casinos, indoor social gatherings, movie theatres, churches and some team sports. The final step in the province's Forward Plan is step 4, which will see more of the restrictions relaxed for amusement parks, indoor/outdoor festivals, play places, entertainment, weddings, funeral receptions and indoor/outdoor sporting events. As well, working from home will be removed from the list. Keep in mind, during each of the steps, the initial health measures are still in place, such as wearing a mask, hand sanitizing and keeping socially-distanced.

Vicki Winger, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press