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Further COVID-19 restrictions on social gatherings announced across much of Alberta

Click to play video 'Alberta premier urges end to house parties, social gatherings as COVID-19 infections rise' Alberta premier urges end to house parties, social gatherings as COVID-19 infections rise
Premier Jason Kenney is strongly urging Albertans to stop holding house parties and get-togethers to flatten the curve on sharply rising COVID-19 cases - but he stopped short of introducing mandatory restrictions. Julia Wong has the details. – Nov 6, 2020

The premier announced Friday stronger COVID-19 restrictions across much of the province as cases in Alberta remain high.

On Friday, Alberta Health confirmed an additional 609 cases of COVID-19 over the last 24 hours. There were 171 people in the hospital, with 33 of those in the ICU.

“I know some people look at those numbers and they say, ‘That’s a small fraction of our overall health care capacity.’ And they’re right, but Albertans need to understand that these numbers are set to grow with the growing case count,” Premier Jason Kenney said.

“And as we’ve had to change hospital protocols, put more folks into self isolation, as we’ve learned how to prevent spread within hospitals, we’re facing other challenges.

“We must take this very seriously because if these numbers continue to grow at the current pace, they will put our health care system at risk.”

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Click to play video 'COVID-19: Alberta expands mandatory 15-person limit, including communities on watch list' COVID-19: Alberta expands mandatory 15-person limit, including communities on watch list
COVID-19: Alberta expands mandatory 15-person limit, including communities on watch list – Nov 6, 2020

Read more: Teens more at risk as they face COVID-19 realities, youth workers warn

Kenney said effective immediately, in Calgary and Edmonton, people need to stop hosting social gatherings at home.

“Now is not the time to host parties or large, extended family dinners,” he said.

Click to play video 'COVID-19: Kenney asks everyone in Calgary and Edmonton to stop hosting social gatherings at home' COVID-19: Kenney asks everyone in Calgary and Edmonton to stop hosting social gatherings at home
COVID-19: Kenney asks everyone in Calgary and Edmonton to stop hosting social gatherings at home – Nov 6, 2020

The premier said the recommendation was voluntary; not mandatory, describing it as a “strong request.”

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“We’re not going to be sending out police,” he said, but urged people to act wisely and responsibly now on their own accord so the province can “avoid using more stringent measures.”

Also effectively immediately, any community (outside Edmonton and Calgary) that is under the watch status on the province’s COVID-19 map is now also subject to additional restrictions.

There is now a limit of no more than 15 people at social gatherings in those areas.

Click to play video 'New social gathering restrictions a ‘strong request,’ according to Premier Kenney' New social gathering restrictions a ‘strong request,’ according to Premier Kenney
New social gathering restrictions a ‘strong request,’ according to Premier Kenney – Nov 6, 2020

This comes as Kenney reported Friday that 40 per cent of the cases in Edmonton and Calgary are transmitted in the household or through a social event.

“It means no large parties, no extended gatherings and no banquets or receptions with more than 15 people,” he said.

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Health measures, like handwashing, physical distancing, and face coverings, must be adhered to during these gatherings.

Read more: Demand increasing for non-medical mask filter material

As of Nov. 4, 46 municipalities and 31 local geographic areas were under the watch category. Of those, 29 municipalities had more than 100 active cases per 100,000 people, which is twice the limit for triggering the watch status.

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“With increasing new cases, we anticipate hospitalizations will keep growing In the next week or 10 days, with as many as 293 cases in hospital within the next two weeks if action isn’t taken,” Kenney said.

Read more: First COVID-19 vaccines will face distribution challenges in new year, Trudeau says

On top of the mandatory limit on social gatherings, the voluntary restrictions put in place previously in Edmonton and Calgary are now extended to all communities currently under a watch status.

Click to play video 'Kenney asks all Albertans to download province’s COVID-19 tracing app, won’t adopt federal app' Kenney asks all Albertans to download province’s COVID-19 tracing app, won’t adopt federal app
Kenney asks all Albertans to download province’s COVID-19 tracing app, won’t adopt federal app – Nov 6, 2020

That means people living in those areas are strongly encouraged to reduce their cohorts to three or less: a primary household cohort, a school cohort and no more than one social, sport or other cohort

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“Reducing the number of people that you interact with, by even one quarter, would make a huge difference in our success,” Kenney said.

“The more each Albertan does his or her part, the more that you can help to bend the curve down and help to protect out health care system.”

As well, all businesses in a municipality under the watch status are encouraged to have employees wear a mask unless the person is sitting at a desk or cubicle more than six feet away from another person, or there is a barrier in place between them.

Read more: Coronavirus mutation in minks: Experts keeping ‘close eye’ on human infections

“In addition to the measures just announced, I would ask all Albertans to look closely at their lives and ways they can make themselves and others safer,” Hinshaw said.

During the news conference, Kenney and Hinshaw were asked why more extreme measures like a lockdown similar to ones being seen in other jurisdictions isn’t being considered.

According to the premier, it’s a balance between not overwhelming the health-care system and not decimating the economy.

“Our goal is not to take COVID-19 to zero,” he said. “Our goal is to keep the spread under control so it does not overwhelm the health-care system without hammering our broader social, economic, mental and physical health.”

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Click to play video 'COVID-19: Lockdown would be a ‘massive impact’ on Albertans’ financial stability, according to Kenney' COVID-19: Lockdown would be a ‘massive impact’ on Albertans’ financial stability, according to Kenney
COVID-19: Lockdown would be a ‘massive impact’ on Albertans’ financial stability, according to Kenney – Nov 6, 2020

According to Kenney, if the goal was to take the virus to zero, it would be a “pretty easy policy decision” to lock everything down and shut every business and school, but that would lead to “social and economic damage” rippling through society.

Instead, he said, Albertans needs to remember that resident have already shown over the last nine months that we can live responsibly with COVID, without causing “massive, widespread damage” to the health of our society.

“We need to get back to that, which is where we were through most of March through October. That’s our goal,” he said.

“We do not think it’s realistic — the cost to people’s lived and livelihoods of trying to go to zero until there’s a vaccine and we don’t know when that would be — would simply be unacceptable in our view.”

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He called on Albertans calling for a lockdown to be compassionate to business owners and workers who are barely hanging on already because of the effects of the pandemic.

Opposition Leader Rachel Notley said Kenney is “sleepwalking into the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“This has been a total failure on multiple fronts by this premier to take this public health threat seriously. Today we heard him continue to downplay the risk and continue to reject some very straight forward measures that could help curb the spread of COVID-19,” she said.

“The Alberta NDP also does not want a full economic shutdown, but we do want this government to take additional steps in order to avoid Alberta being forced into a full economic shutdown.”

Click to play video 'Alberta doctor wants stricter COVID-19 measures in place' Alberta doctor wants stricter COVID-19 measures in place
Alberta doctor wants stricter COVID-19 measures in place – Nov 6, 2020

Late last month, the NDP presented the UCP with six “non-restrictive measures” it should take to reduce the spread of infection and provide more information to Albertans. Those measures include hiring more contact tracers, implementing the national COVID-19 tracing app and faster turnaround time for test results.

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“While I deplore the failures of of the premier that have led us to this point, I strongly do urge all Albertans to follow the directions of Dr. Hinshaw, especially those that she gave today. Lives are a stake and we must all do our part to protect the lives of our families, our friends and our neighbours and indeed all Albertans.”

Notley also noted the fact people are still going to work with symptoms “underlines the fact this government must get to work on addressing the matter of proper paid sick leave.”

“Albertans need to be able to keep food on the table and if they are at risk of losing a week of work if they go in to get tested for symptoms, the more and more we’re going to see this problem amplified.”

Daily numbers

Due to a technical issue, the status map and the daily breakdown of COVID-19 numbers online are currently not updating. Hinshaw said there are more than 20 people working to fix the problem.

Due to the issue, Thursday’s COVID-19 numbers were not available. On Friday, Kenney said Alberta’s COVID-19 count climbed by 802 on Thursday.

During her update, Hinshaw reported eight additional deaths, but Alberta Health confirmed to 630 CHED that nine people have actually died of COVID-19 in Alberta since Wednesday.

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Three of the deaths, a woman in her 70s, a woman in her 80s and a man in his 80s, were linked to the outbreak at the Edmonton General Care Centre.

Three other deaths, a woman in her 70s, a woman in her 90s and a male in his 90s, were linked to the South Terrace Continuing Care Centre.

A man in his 90s who was linked to the outbreak at Mayerthorpe Extendicare in the North zone and a woman in her 90s who was linked to the Mount Royal Revera outbreak in the Calgary zone also died.

The final death was a man in his 90s in the Edmonton zone.

Click to play video 'Alberta reports 8 additional deaths from COVID-19' Alberta reports 8 additional deaths from COVID-19
Alberta reports 8 additional deaths from COVID-19 – Nov 6, 2020

Over the last two days, Alberta performed 26,483 COVID-19 tests.

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Due to the errors in the reporting system, the province was unable to provide an update on active cases and recoveries in Alberta, but Hinshaw said there hasn’t been any issues with cases being identified or notified right now.

Starting this weekend, the province will go back to daily COVID-19 updates online.