Alberta Premier Jason Kenney made a “strong request” to Edmonton and Calgary residents Friday afternoon to stop holding social gatherings in their homes in order to help slow down the spread of COVID-19, but stopped short of ordering the change.
On Friday, Kenney announced additional measures to help combat the pandemic, with 40 per cent of transmission in two of Alberta’s biggest cities linked to household transmission or private gatherings.
“All that we have accomplished together is now at risk,” Kenney said.
The premier appealed to Albertans' sense of “personal and collective responsibility” but said he would not be sending cops to doors of those who do not follow the request. The premier said a full sweeping lockdown would be an invasion of fundamental rights, and majorly impact personal liberties and the ability for Albertans to put food on their tables.
A mandatory 15-person limit on social gatherings is now extended to all communities on the COVID-19 watch list, including the majority of communities around Edmonton and Calgary. The additional voluntary measures will also be extended to communities on the watch list, and those residents should limit their cohorts to no more than three.
“If you can reduce the number of people you see in person, please do so,” Kenney said.
These additional voluntary measures come after 802 new cases were announced on Thursday and another 609 Friday. There were eight deaths over the past two days. So far, 251 Albertans have had their deaths linked to the virus.
The premier said while Albertans have done very well in the past nine months, there is now a significant spike in the province, mirroring what is happening across the world. With growing case counts, there is also an increasing number of people in the hospital – 171, with 33 people in the intensive care unit.
“These numbers are set to grow with the growing case count,” Kenney said of the hospitalizations.
“We must take this very seriously because if these numbers continue to grow at the current pace they will put out healthcare system at risk, our economy at risk and our loved ones at risk.”
Some surgeries have been postponed and if the COVID-19 curve doesn't bend, more surgeries will have to be delayed.
Kenney said if these new measures introduced today don’t bend the curve, “even tougher choices” will have to be made in the days ahead and more stringent measures will have to be introduced.
The premier has targeted at-home social gatherings rather than shutting down restaurants, because fewer than one per cent of active cases in Calgary and Edmonton are being linked to dining in restaurants, while many more active cases can be traced back to at-home social gatherings.
This is the third attempt the province has taken in the last month to try to get surging COVID-19 numbers under control, but targeted measures introduced on Oct. 8 and Oct. 26 have not been enough to bring down case counts.
The positive testing rate in Alberta’s big cities has also increased since the summer, with an overall positive rate of six per cent compared to a one-per-cent positive rate from the summer and early fall.
School re-entry is not being pegged as a significant cause of community spread of COVID-19, with only six per cent of school-aged children's cases acquired in the schools. There is no evidence schools are driving community spread.
As of Thursday, the province said as an interim measure, they will no longer be conducting contact tracing for most Albertans until they can hire more employees to do the job. Kenney said AHS is hiring 380 new contact tracers, bringing the total to 1,100.
Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering rural Alberta matters for Great West Newspapers.
Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, St. Albert Gazette