Province could ease COVID restrictions March 1

·4 min read

Alberta is below the threshold of hospitalizations to move forward with step two of the provincial plans to lift COVID-19-related restrictions, but no decisions will be made until March 1 at the earliest.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer, noted on Feb. 22 that cases of COVID-19 increased in the couple days prior. With that in mind, the province is taking the full three weeks to assess data and come up with the best way forward.

“We are being cautious, as it is too early to say if this recent increase is significant or but a temporary pause in the strong downward trend we have seen over the past several months,” Hinshaw said.

Step two requires fewer hospitalizations than 450 with declining cases and would allow the potential reopening of retail, banquet halls, community halls, conference centres, hotels, and further easing of indoor fitness and children’s sport and performance.

There were 326 people in hospital due to COVID-19, including 51 in intensive care on Feb. 23, and 4,516 active cases remaining in the province.

The province stated earlier in January that it would give businesses a heads up on when they may be able to reopen, which may not be the case as the province considers step two.

“While the decision will be made at the earliest on March 1, I’m not able to say with certainty exactly when that would be implemented. It could be as early as that same day or it could be that a decision is made with some lag time for businesses to prepare for opening,” Hinshaw said on Feb. 23.

Metrics based on cases and growth, including COVID-19 variants, are being monitored and will be used to guide any decisions around the restrictions, including easing, pausing, or increasing them.

Alberta implemented the four-step plan to ease public health restrictions based on hospitalization benchmarks in January.

Once hospitalizations are within range of the benchmark, decisions to move to the next step are considered. Moving between steps will happen at least three weeks apart to assess the impact on case rates.

Health measures such as hand-washing, wearing a mask in public, keeping two-metres apart, staying home, and getting tested when sick will remain in place throughout each step.

There has been a sharp decline in cases among residents in long term facilities, totalling 92 per cent from early January until now. Designated living facilities also saw a decline of 88 per cent since December.

Within schools, the province has noted a 63 per cent decrease in cases since schools reopened in January. And there has also been a steady decline in fatalities in recent months.

Hinshaw noted that while these are positive trends, cases are starting to plateau instead of dropping with steady numbers of new variant cases.

The Town of Hinton stated that they are continuing to provide services to citizens safely and allowing one-on-one appointments when necessary, following the provincial health guidelines.

With ice being removed from one rink at the Dr. Duncan Murray Recreation Centre, the Town is working at introducing additional activity options based on the provincial health guidelines. Activities will soon be announced via the Town of Hinton’s Facebook and website, including opening the Steve Hotchkiss Arena, the court area, and the pool for private use by appointment, stated Faiaz Mir, Hinton’s communications coordinator. The Steve Hotchkiss Arena ice surface will stay in till the end of spring break.

On Friday, Feb. 18, Health Minister Tyler Shandro spoke to Albertans about improvements regarding contact tracing.

He said there are more than 2,300 contact tracers working to investigate every positive case.

“Since Jan. 9, we’ve been contacting and investigating all COVID-19 cases that we receive each day,” Shandro said.

Within 24 hours of results, the contact tracers have been able to contact and investigate about 1,500 cases per day. They work with businesses, schools, and operators to collect contact information.

As of Feb. 23, there were 301 variant cases identified in Alberta, which has a dedicated investigation team working to isolate each case.

Masha Scheele, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hinton Voice