Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced Friday that the mass gathering restriction in Alberta would be eased to allow groups of up to 50 people to gather, as long as they’re outside and can maintain a two-metre buffer from one another and handwashing or sanitization is done.
The change takes effect May 15.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health stressed this does not apply to indoor gatherings, where only groups as large as 15 can attend.
The risk of COVID-19 transmission is lower in outdoor settings, Hinshaw explained.
However, food and drink should not be shared, even in outdoor settings.
“This practice has frequently been linked to transmission of the virus,” Hinshaw said.
She reiterated that Albertans should continue taking precautions like frequent handwashing, staying home when you’re feeling ill, using a non-medical mask when out in public, particularly if you’re going to be within two metres of others.
For anyone considering inviting people over to their backyard, Hinshaw had some advice.
“Only invite as many people as your yard can hold while maintaining two metres of physical distance between people of different households and encourage people to bring their own snacks and drinks and to not share these items.”
Also, hosts should sanitize common-touch areas like doorknobs and offer sanitizer to guests.
“Hold off on any gathering if you are uncertain you can follow public health orders and guidelines.”
On Friday, there were 58 new cases confirmed, 1,073 active COVID-19 cases in Alberta, and 5,317 that had recovered.
There were 62 people in hospital, nine of whom were in intensive care units.
Four more Albertans have died from the virus, bringing Alberta’s death toll to 125. All four individuals who died were residents of continuing care homes in Calgary. A man and a woman in their 90s and a woman in her 80s, at Intercare Brentwood, and a man in his 80s at Extendicare Hilcrest passed away.
“Let us remember this virus still poses a risk, particularly to the elderly and people with chronic medical conditions,” Hinshaw said.
“No Albertan is expendable.”
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Hinshaw also spoke about the testing in Calgary that was expanded earlier this week to test anyone in that city, whether they have symptoms or not.
She said since asymptomatic testing began, 50 cases have been confirmed in people who reported having no symptoms.
“I do not have information on how many of these are asymptomatic close contacts of known cases.”
Hinshaw said she also didn’t yet have the full investigations on these cases and that often, people who first report no symptoms later go on to develop mild symptoms.
She said she’d have more information on asymptomatic test results next week.
Businesses’ COVID-19 precautions
Thursday was the first day of Phase 1 in Alberta’s staged relaunch strategy and saw some retail stores, restaurants, museums and daycares reopen.
Alberta Health said Friday it is giving businesses who have reopened in Phase 1 of the relaunch more time to explain the steps they’re taking to reduce COVID-19 transmission.
Businesses must complete and share a template within 14 days of reopening, rather than seven.
The short template is available on the province’s website under the Biz Connect section.
For businesses that have remained open during this time and have not closed during the pandemic, completion of the template is voluntary.
Hinshaw said Friday that some municipalities continue to restrict access to playgrounds and play structures.
“Where playgrounds are not municipally restricted, they can be accessed,” she said. “I recommend encouraging your children to play with children in the same household or a cohort family.
“Also, sanitize hands before and after playing on a play structure. And remember to wash your children’s hands and your own thoroughly when you return from the playground.”
Alberta Health is still advising people to avoid non-essential travel outside the province.
For travel within Alberta, Hinshaw said people should consider the small municipalities they’ll be visiting or travelling through, and plan their trips well to limit stops.
Clarifying concept of cohort households
Hinshaw said she’s received several requests to provide clarity on the concept of cohort families or households.
“The way that we’ve set this out is not as a legal entity,” she explained. “Rather, what we’re wanting to do is to provide Albertans with a framework for how they can safely set out a small number of people with whom they can have gatherings where they don’t necessarily need to be following that two-metre rule.”
Alberta Health is recommending it be a family or household making an agreement with one other family or household.
An adult or adults in one or both of those households who works outside the home doesn’t preclude them from participating in a cohort arrangement, Hinshaw said.
She explained each household should evaluate the risk factors before making a decision.
“Each family is going to have to look at their particular situation, how many members of their household may be at high risk for complications, and what kind of risk they feel comfortable in accepting in order to have that relationship with another cohort family.
“We’re providing it as a construct again, as a support, for people to be able to think about having someone outside their own household that they can spend time with and not have to worry about that two-metre distancing.”
Hinshaw believes there’s a need to be realistic when it comes to people’s real-life situations.
“There are situations of shared custody, situations where households are connected together through perhaps caregiving responsibilities or duties.
“I want to be sure that single Albertans who are living alone — they can absolutely then connect with another household as a part of their cohort.”
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said she would be reducing the number of public updates she provides in-person starting next week. While Alberta Health will post a daily update on its website about COVID-19 cases, Hinshaw will speak next Tuesday and Thursday, and then Monday, Wednesday and Friday the following week.