The initial target date for Stage 2 was set for June 19, however, Kenney said due to low COVID-19 case numbers and continued cooperation by Albertans, the province is moving forward with the next phase of its relaunch plan beginning Friday.
“Albertans should be very proud of their response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Kenney said in a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.
“Alberta is accelerating our relaunch strategy further to open our economy… On June 12, Stage 2 will go into effect.”
Kenney said Stage 2 involves the reopening of several businesses and organizations, including public libraries, wellness services, most personal services, movie theatres, community halls and team sports.
K-12 schools will also be able to reopen for diploma exams and summer schools.
Kenney also noted that participation numbers for indoor gatherings, including weddings and funerals have been raised to 50 people, as long as physical distancing is maintained.
“Outdoor events and indoor seated meetings, plus entertainment and sport, conferencing and public events, can have up to 100 people,” Kenney added.
LISTEN BELOW: Global News reporter Julia Wong joins the Ryan Jespersen Show to break down Stage 2 of Alberta’s reopening plan
The 50 per cent capacity limit for restaurants, bars, lounges and cafes will also been lifted in Stage 2, however, these facilities will still have a limit of six people per table, Kenney said.
While physical distancing regulations remain in place, capacity limitations have also been lifted on worship gatherings, casinos, bingo halls and provincial campgrounds.
Some activities originally planned for Stage 3 of the relaunch have also been moved forward to be incorporated in Stage 2, including indoor recreation, fitness and sports facilities which includes gyms and pools, Kenney announced on Tuesday.
Dr. Craig Jenne, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Calgary, noted that moving forward with Stage 3 activities as part of the second stage will put Alberta in an interesting position compared to other provinces.
“It was a little surprising to see elements of Stage 3 moved up,” he said. “One of the strengths of the overall plan — of having multiple stages — is to proceed stepwise and then reassess what’s happening in the community. So moving additional activities into Stage 2 runs the risk of, we don’t really have the opportunity to check our progress before adding the other stages.
“We are now going to be in a position where we are unable to learn from other provinces and instead Alberta will be the trendsetter.”
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw added that changes will also be made to the size of groups in the province that no longer have to maintain physical distancing.
“Friends and families from different households can choose to form cohorts of up to 15 people,” Hinshaw said.
A cohort group is a small group of people whose members do not always keep two metres apart. However, Alberta Health says everyone is encouraged to follow public health guidelines and notify others in the cohort if they have symptoms or test positive for COVID-19. If they do test positive or have symptoms, mandatory isolation is required.
“We have made it to Stage 2 earlier than expected because we remained vigilant.”
Hinshaw also urged residents to get tested, even if they aren’t showing symptoms, as the reopening of additional services across the province could create increased opportunity for spread in the community.
“Broad testing will help us to monitor COVID-19,” she said.
Performers and sports teams will also see more opportunities to get active in their communities during Stage 2.
Performing arts organizations can now participate in groups of up to 50 cast members, and sports teams can participate in region-only mini-leagues with up to 50 players.
“We recognize that people cannot play team sports while obtaining physical distancing at all times,” Hinshaw said. “We also recognize that sports provide physical and mental health benefits.”
“There can be 50 people per a sports team cohort, so depending on the nature of the sport, that would be up to two to several teams that could participate in team play together.”
To begin the second phase of Alberta’s reopening plan, Kenney said the province had to reach significant milestones, including a decrease in both active COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations due to the virus, and less than 50 per cent of dedicated ICU beds being occupied by COVID-19 patients. Kenney noted the province has excelled in all three areas, especially in hot-spot communities.
“Currently, there are five Albertans in ICU — that’s 12 per cent of our dedicated beds,” Kenney said
“The decrease has been especially strong in Calgary and Brooks — the areas hardest hit by the pandemic.”
Phase 1 launched on May 14, and saw most of Alberta, except Calgary and Brooks due to their larger number of cases, begin to reopen specific businesses, including restaurants, pubs, retail stores, hair salons and museums.
Calgary and Brooks were given the green light to reopen alongside the rest of the province on May 25.
The timing of Stage 3 is dependant on the success of the first two phases, and would include the opening of all remaining services and businesses.
During Stage 2, some restrictions still apply across the province, including the continued closure of nightclubs, amusement parks, major sporting events and tournaments and regular in-school classes.
Non-essential travel outside the province is also not recommended at this time.