EDITOR’S NOTE: Alberta Health originally stated activities like going for a walk or sitting on the driveway with people not from your immediate household — even at a safe two-metre distance — are not recommended and should be avoided. Alberta Health later clarified some activities are allowed if you maintain a two-metre distance. This story has been updated to reflect the changes.
As the weather warms up, more and more Albertans are getting outside. But with the COVID-19 pandemic yet to peak in the province, health officials want to remind people to practice physical distancing.
With recommendations to stay home, but to get outside when you can — what is and is not recommended when it comes to physical distancing can be a bit confusing.
Global News put a number of scenarios to Alberta Health to get some answers.
What is physical or social distancing?
Physical distancing involves taking steps to limit the number of people you come into close contact with. People are encouraged to limit the number of times they leave the house to run errands, and stay two metres away from others when going out for groceries, medical trips and other essential needs.
Alberta Health encourages people to only go out for groceries once per week, and try to have only one person in the household do the shopping.
Meeting up with neighbours, family, friends at a distance
A spokesperson with Alberta Health said activities with individuals who are not in your immediate household should be avoided whenever possible.
“When it is not possible, we’re asking Albertans to practice social distancing and to follow all the other public health measures put in place,” Tom McMillan said.
“Outdoor activities where individuals are physically distanced and there is no contact with contaminated surfaces would be fine, such as going for a walk or chatting with your neighbor on the driveway while physically distancing,” McMillan said in an updated statement Tuesday evening.
“Activities where physical distance is not always possible or where you may come into contact with contaminated objects (such as having drinks with a neighbor or attending a barbecue) are inherently riskier and would not be recommended,” he continued.
“Going out for walks and bike rides with members of the same household is encouraged. When walking or biking with friends who are not from the same household remember to maintain a distance of two metres and do not let your group grow too large.”
In her daily COVID-19 update on Monday afternoon, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health recognized that the guidance from health officials can be confusing.
“I know it can be confusing to hear me say stay home and then hearing me encourage you to leave your house to go outside,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.
“This advice is not as contradictory as it may seem.
“Getting exercise and spending time outside is important and you can do it while continuing to take all necessary precautions and following public health orders while you were out of the house.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Hinshaw said more guidance for outdoor activities, now that the weather is getting warmer, is coming “soon.”
“What I’m advising is to avoid contact with people that you don’t live with. That’s very simple,” she recognized.
“The challenge comes in that definition of contact. I think if neighbours are outside standing on their porches and chatting with each other or going for a social distance walk where they’re always farther apart than two metres, I think those are low-risk activities.
“The challenge comes when people start to pre-plan gatherings and you have lots of people going to a place where they don’t normally live or people are driving to get together — it becomes harder and harder to maintain that two-metre distance.”
She said the goal is provide Albertans with more clear guidance on how to safely interact with others outdoors.
“Hopefully that will be coming out soon so that we can give a little more guidance other than that basic piece of avoid contact with people you don’t live with, stay two metres apart and as you’re interacting with people, try not to go too far from your neighbourhood,” she said.
“I really wouldn’t encourage large gatherings of people where you all drive to one park, for example. Try to stay close within your neighbourhood and two metres away from others.”
What about carpooling?
Again, carpooling does not contravene the public health orders that are in place, but officials advise against carpooling with anyone who is not in your immediate household where possible.
“The fines are intended to apply to breaking the official public health orders,” McMillan said. “If you are not under mandatory self-isolation, you should not be fined for travelling in your vehicle with your family or carpooling with coworkers. However, if you are feeling unwell, you must stay home.
“That said, we strongly recommend that carpooling be avoided whenever possible.”
Measures taken by everyone now to flatten the curve, will help prevent the spread of infection, Hinshaw stressed. By taking these measures now, Albertans will be able to begin the gradual return to their normal lives sooner, she said.
People are encouraged to continue practicing good hygiene by washing their hands often for 20 seconds, not touching their faces, and coughing or sneezing into elbows.
Public health orders that can be legally enforced with fines include, but are not limited to, 14-day mandatory self-isolation for international travellers who return to Canada, 10-day mandatory isolation for people with COVID-19 symptoms and restrictions around gatherings of more than 15 people.
For a full list of the public health orders currently in place, or to submit a complaint, visit the Alberta government’s website.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
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