An infectious disease expert is advising Albertans to approach Canada Day gatherings with caution as the province plans to lift virtually all of its COVID-19 public health restrictions on July 1.
As new cases trend downward and vaccination numbers rise, the Alberta government plans to allow indoor and outdoor gatherings, end capacity limits and lift much of its mask mandate on Thursday, although Calgary announced it will keep its mask mandate in place until at least July 5.
But according to the province's most recent data, there are 607 reported cases of the extremely contagious delta variant in the province.
University of Alberta infectious disease specialist Dr. Lynora Saxinger said it's a reason to take precautions to stay safe as people gather to celebrate.
"My stance is optimistic, but still cautious … we haven't seen a lot of transmission [and] we don't want to see a lot of transmission," Saxinger said.
"Outdoors is preferred, a smaller gathering is preferred … [and] I actually think it is fair to ask people who you're inviting, especially to a gathering, whether or not they're vaccinating."
Be aware of vax status, stay home if sick
The Public Health Agency of Canada warned last week that if the delta variant becomes the dominant strain of COVID-19 in Canada, it could lead to a larger than expected resurgence in case numbers this fall.
The variant has triggered a caseload resurgence in other countries such as the U.K., where reopening plans were recently delayed by four weeks.
Because delta seems to spread easily, Saxinger said, even if people are starting to wonder if they're sick, they should stay home on July 1.
Being aware of the vaccination status of those attending gatherings — and whether anyone is at risk for severe disease if exposed — is another way to evaluate potential for, and possibly mitigate, transmission.
People who are on certain immunosuppressive drugs and cancer therapies could be at higher risk of having less vaccine protection, and might want to be extra cautious if there are unvaccinated people at a gathering.
If someone in attendance is immunocompromised or unvaccinated, masking when indoors is a good idea.
And Saxinger said she will be watching to see whether there is a spike in cases after people get together to celebrate.
"Post-Canada Day … will really be a watch for delta cases, and looking for evidence of spread in that type of gathering," Saxinger said.
"I think that the reason to watch out for that, also, is that it could kind of inform us a little bit more for the rest of the summer, in terms of what's OK and what's not OK."