The holiday season is going to look very different for Albertans this year.
Premier Jason Kenney announced sweeping new provincial measures Tuesday, as the second wave of COVID-19 continues to hit Alberta hard. The announcement came as the province reported 1,727 new cases of the virus.
As part of the new restrictions, dine-in service at restaurants and bars is no longer permitted and all personal service businesses like hair salons and gyms must close.
All social gatherings are also banned — not just indoor, but now outdoor as well. The province is also imposing mandatory work-from-home measures and an Alberta-wide mask mandate.
While retail businesses in Alberta may remain open, they must do so at a lower fire code capacity limit of 15 per cent. Worship centres will also stay open under those same limits.
The new measures will be in effect for a minimum of four weeks, which means they will be in place until at least the first week of 2021.
Kenney said the decision to launch additional measures was necessary as hospitalizations mount.
“If stronger action is not taken now, we know that hundreds, or potentially thousands more Albertans could die.”
“We cannot let that happen. We will not let that happen,” Kenney said. “We must act to protect lives and we must act to protect our hospitals plus those who depend on them.”
Alberta currently has 654 people in hospital with COVID-19, with 112 of them in intensive care.
“That (hospitalization) number has grown by 600 per cent since the last week of October,” Kenney said. “Six-hundred-and-forty Albertans have now passed away from COVID-19.”
The nine additional deaths announced by Alberta Health Tuesday which brought the death toll to 640 were all seniors.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw urged Albertans to stay the course and follow the rules to help protect the vulnerable.
“I know it is hard, but I ask you to be diligent, to be patient, and to keep going,” Hinshaw said.
“We need to go above and beyond, to keep ourselves, our families, and our communities safe.
“Two months ago, on Oct. 8, our positivity rate was just 1.34 per cent… today our positivity rate is 9.41 per cent,” Hinshaw said.
“There have been outbreaks in almost every type of group setting — parties, family dinners, sports cohorts, long-term care facilities, schools, hospitals, work places and supportive living facilities.”
Hinshaw added the virus has touched “every region and every age group,” and that the youngest case so far has been in someone less than one year old, and the oldest case was in reported in someone who was 108.
Most measures to come into effect Sunday
The mask mandate and social gathering ban are effective immediately, the province said, but the rest of the restrictions will go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, then last until at least Jan. 12, 2021.
The ban on indoor and outdoor gatherings mean that you may only see people in your own household, except for those who live alone who can still see up to two people outside their household.
“Group social activities are not allowed at this time,” Hinshaw said. “That’s defined in terms of people coming together — mixing, mingling, socializing, and spending time in that spot.”
However, she added people from different households can still go on walks or other outdoor activities together if they are distanced.
The gathering restrictions don’t apply to caregiver service visits, child care and co-parenting arrangements, or visits from health-care providers.
On midnight Sunday, all the below businesses will be ordered closed:
- Restaurants, pubs, bars, lounges and cafes for in-person activities, but takeout, curb-side pickup and delivery are still allowed
- Casinos, bingo halls, and all entertainment centres like bowling alleys, gaming complexes, Legions and private clubs
- Recreational and fitness centres including pools, gyms, studios, and arenas
- Libraries, science centres, museums, galleries, amusement and water parks
- Personal care services like hair and nail salons, tattoo parlours, tanning salons, and massage therapy
Kenney noted that some outdoor activities like skiing and skating will still be permitted under strict distancing measures. Hotels may also remain open but must close their pools, fitness facilities and restaurants, and offer room service.
Kenney said the decision to allow all retail to remain open, not just essential services, was made to ensure small and medium Alberta-owned businesses would not be affected unfairly.
“In the spring we had this crazy situation, of hundreds of people jamming into big U.S.-owned big-box stores, often buying goods that would normally be available from small specialty retailers in Alberta,” Kenney said.
“We’ve decided not to make that mistake a second time. To learn from that mistake.
“Every business is essential for the person who owns that business and the people who work there,” he said. “And that’s something we should not lose sight of again.”
Services that can remain open by appointment include regulated health services like doctor’s offices, dentists, physiotherapy, optometrists, hearing aid practitioners, acupuncturists and naturopaths. Professional services by appointment are also allowed for lawyers, mediators, accountants and photographers.
Out of the nine additional deaths Tuesday, seven were linked to COVID-19 outbreaks. Six patients had comorbidities.
In the Edmonton zone, a man in his 70s connected to the outbreak at Covenant Health St. Joseph’s passed away, along with two men connected to the Good Samaritan Dr. Gerald Zetter Care Centre – one in his 80s and one in his 90s. A man in his 80s linked to the outbreak at Laurel Heights Retirement Residence and a woman in her 90s connected to the outbreak at Grey Nuns Community Hospital also passed away.
In the Calgary zone, a man in his 80s linked to the Carewest George Boyack outbreak died, along with a woman in her 70s connected to the outbreak at Bethany.
A man in his 70s with no known comorbidities from the South zone died and a man in his 70s with unknown comorbidities from the Central zone passed away.
There are now 20,388 active cases of COVID-19 in the province, with the majority of them in the Calgary and Edmonton zones.
Calgary zone sits at 7,529 active cases or 37 per cent of the total, while Edmonton zone sits at 9,383 or 46 per cent of the total.
A total of 2,410,675 tests have been completed in Alberta since the pandemic began, with 19,109 completed on Monday.
Quarantining before the holidays not enough: Hinshaw
While Hinshaw said she knows some people may be planning to isolate before the holidays in hopes of an in-person gathering, the provincial rules mean even that won’t be allowed.
“We’re telling you that gathering for Christmas would be not allowed at this time, no social gatherings in the home with people who do not live in that home,” Hinshaw said.
She said while she recognizes it is an “imposition,” the concern is that some people may not quarantine at the right level that would be required for it to be sufficient to stop the virus from spreading.
“We are really concerned that if we provide those kinds of (isolation) suggestions, people may define that kind of quarantine or the safety measures in a different way, and it’s possible that we may see — as we saw at Thanksgiving —a significant acceleration of cases.
“Christmas should be celebrated with people’s own household, who they live with, or if they live alone up to two other people.”
Edmonton zone delaying more surgeries
Hinshaw said that the Edmonton zone, which currently has 357 people in hospital with COVID-19 — or nearly 55 per cent of the total hospitalizations — will further postpone surgeries and increase additional hospital measures.
While the Edmonton zone had postponed 30 per cent of surgeries in October, on Tuesday Hinshaw announced as much as 60 per cent of non-urgent, scheduled surgeries that require hospital stays will now be postponed.
“Surgeries will continue for major and minor trauma, urgent cancer, cardiac and vascular cases,” Hinshaw said.
Diagnostic imaging and other clinical supports will also be reduced by 40 per cent, Hinshaw said.
“These steps are yet another reminder on why today’s restrictions are needed.”
The Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton — which Hinshaw said is currently caring for 102 patients with COVID-19 — has also been placed under a facility-wide watch, meaning additional protective measures will be in place for the entire hospital. Hinshaw said there are 13 units at that facility dealing with outbreaks.
–With files from Emily Mertz, Global News