As more public health measures kick in to try to curb the spread of COVID-19, Alberta’s justice minister said Friday that it is empowering an additional 700 peace officers in the province to be able to issue fines against people who break the rules.
“This is not my preference,” Kaycee Madu said at a news conference in Edmonton. “(But we need) to respond quickly and decisively to situations where Albertans are breaking health measures.”
Madu’s comments came just three days after Premier Jason Kenney declared the province’s second public health emergency since the pandemic began, announcing new restrictions in response to a startling surge in COVID-19 cases this month.
Madu said the increase in the number of peace officers who can issue fines is only temporary and said the government worked to strike “a balanced approach” that protects Albertans’ health while minimizing the impact to their personal freedoms.
Among the new measures announced earlier this week is a blanket ban on gatherings in homes involving people who don’t live there.
“Private gatherings are the obvious place to start,” Madu said. “an estimated 40 per cent of traceable COVID(-19) cases can be linked to private social gatherings.
“Those who choose to break the rules will be subject to fine,” Madu said, reminding Albertans those fines can range from $1,000 to $100,000.
To facilitate the ramping up of the province’s enforcement capabilities, Madu said Alberta peace officers who are considered “Level 2” and who work in ministries outside of justice but are trained in enforcing public health orders will be asked to do so, in addition to carrying on with their regular duties.
Madu thanked Albertans who are already following the rules and implored those who continue to have social gatherings in homes to “do the right thing.”
“I understand this is an extraordinary encroachment on your personal liberty,” he said. “(But) this is a time for Albertans to stand together.”
When asked if the province is shifting from emphasizing education over enforcement when it comes to public health restrictions, Madu said while education remains important, the health crisis has reached a new level threat.
“We’re now faced with a very serious situation,” he said. “You are going to see a heightened level of enforcement with regard to individuals who are blatantly not complying with health measures.”
When asked if the government plans to crack down on large anti-mask rallies, Madu said police make determinations on how to handle individual cases but that his expectation is to ensure people are in compliance with the rules.
“These orders are meant to keep all of us safe from this terrible virus.”
The new public health restrictions, a full list of which can be viewed here, are being implemented as Alberta is beginning to regularly see over 1,000 new COVID-19 cases in a 24-hour period, the province’s contact tracing system is overwhelmed and increased hospitalizations are seriously straining the health-care system’s ability to cope.
The province continues to work on bringing in new contact tracers and expanding the capacity of its intensive care units but both government and health officials have emphasized the need to dramatically slow the spread of the novel coronavirus in Alberta.
The province’s chief medical officer said Friday she has issued a new order bringing the new restrictions into effect and urged Albertans to be compassionate with those trying to enforce the new rules, as well as those trying to follow them.
“I urge Albertans to exercise patience,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said, acknowledging the new rules will put extra pressure on everyone. “I know there are many new restrictions in place.
“I’d like to encourage every Albertan to work with law enforcement officers… who are working to enforce the rules in place.”
She also asked people to ensure treating others with respect remains of paramount importance.
“I continue to hear some disappointing reports of health inspectors being criticized or even abused,” she said, noting the situation is not the fault of inspectors or law enforcement officers.
Violations of the COVID-19 public health order can be reported to Alberta Health Services online.
As a result of the new public health measures, students in Grade 7 to 12 will shift to at-home learning beginning Monday. Hinshaw said there are currently 1,326 active COVID-19 cases in Alberta’s schools and outbreaks at 193 schools. Eighty-nine schools are currently under the province’s “watch list.”
Hinshaw emphasized that Albertans need to immediately make efforts to curtail the coronavirus’ ability to spread and suggested people safely enjoy the outdoors on what is expected to be a warm weekend across much of the province.
“Do everything you can think of to help bend the curve,” she said. “Every one of us needs to dramatically reduce the amount of contact we have with people outside of our household.”
Latest COVID-19 numbers in Alberta
Hinshaw said Alberta added an additional 1,227 COVID-19 cases on Friday after conducting over 16,000 tests over the past 24 hours. That brings Alberta’s total number of active COVID-19 cases to 14,217.
As for serious illnesses, 405 people are in hospital with COVID-19 – 86 of those in ICUs.
The province now has a 7.6 per cent positivity rate, Hinshaw added. She also said there have been nine new COVID-19-related deaths recorded since Thursday afternoon and that she thinks “often about the tragic impact this virus has had on many Albertans.”
Recently, the Alberta government has started releasing more information about the people who have died, including if they had underlying health conditions that may have contributed to their death — also known as “comorbidities.”
In the Edmonton zone, the people who died were a woman in her 90s who had additional comorbidities and was linked to an outbreak at the Extendicare Eaux Claires seniors home, a woman in her 80s whose comorbidities are not yet known, a man in his 70s with no known comorbidities who was linked to an outbreak at the Laurel Heights Retirement Residence and a woman in her 90s who comorbidities are still unclear.
In the Calgary zone, the people who died were a man in his 90s who had additional comorbidities and was linked to an outbreak at the Revera Bow-Crest long-term care home and a woman in her 90s with unknown comorbidities who was linked to an outbreak at the Manor Village Varsity seniors home.
In the Central zone, a man in his 80s with unknown comorbidities died in connection with an outbreak at the Rosealta Lodge in Camrose.
In the South zone, two deaths were recorded: a man in his 60s who had additional comorbidities and a woman in her 70s who had additional comorbidities.
Watch below: Some videos of Dr. Deena Hinshaw speaking at a news conference on Friday afternoon.