As Alberta records record-high cases of COVID-19, one health expert is urging caution against recommendations from the province that suggest opting for in-person dining over at-home gatherings.
Virologist Jason Kindrachuk says reducing the spread of COVID-19 depends on whether safety measures are put in place and followed, regardless of whether you’re at home or at a restaurant.
“The virus does not care whether we are six feet across from one another or we’re ten feet across from one another,” University of Manitoba virologist Jason Kindrachuk said.
“If there is the opportunity for it to spread from person to the next, it will.
“People should be reducing any social contacts they have whatsoever, whether that is in their homes, whether it’s at a restaurant or it is simply meeting for coffee — all these things we would have to put aside, the reason being that the virus is transmitting widely really without limitations,” Kindrachuk said.
His warning comes after Premier Jason Kenney announced new restrictions Thursday saying Albertans should not have people into their homes, but said if people need to socialize to do so outdoors or in structured settings like a restaurant.
“There have been zero hospitalizations and zero deaths tracible to an outbreak in a restaurant, bar, or pub,” Premier Jason Kenney said.
“Forty per cent of the spread of COVID-19 can be traced to transmission at home and at social gatherings.”
A statement from Alberta Health Saturday said in cases where the public health investigation is complete, only one per cent of those have been linked to exposure at restaurants.
“Restaurant and other operators are able to ensure that measures are in place within their establishments to limit risky activities – this is a more controlled environment than private gatherings,” said an emailed statement from Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan.
“There are various measures in place to help limit exposure, including table limits, staff assessment and cleaning requirements, that do not exist in home social gatherings.”
However, McMillan added there are “no risk-free options” and that Albertans should look for ways they can reduce their social contact.
On Sunday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Albertans should be limiting their in-person visits with those outside the household.
As of Friday, 37 per cent of active COVID-19 cases in the province were from an unknown origin.
Alberta recorded record-high case numbers on Saturday, with 1,026 new cases and three additional deaths bringing the provincial fatality total to 401.
While the province is still allowing in-person dining, one Edmonton restaurant has placed restrictions on itself to help protect its staff.
“We closed off the entrance upfront, we’re keeping this area just for staff only and just trying to create that barrier between us and the customers as best we can,” Andrew Cowan, owner of Northern Chicken said.
“We were starting to have lots of issues, people coming in without masks, not respecting the rules or the safety of the people around us,” Cowan said.
Cowan says dine-in service will be closed for a few weeks, as he waits to see if COVID-19 numbers drop.
Meanwhile, Kindrachuk says the steps we take right now will determine what comes next.
“Now is the time to clamp down, get take out, stay within your bubble, keep it limited and let’s hope that in a month or so we get back to normal,” he said.