The Alberta government announced some changes to its current COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday.
As of Dec. 8, all indoor and outdoor social gatherings were banned province-wide and a mask mandate for all indoor public spaces was put in place across Alberta.
Effective Dec. 13, some businesses were temporarily closed, reduce their capacity or limit their in-person access. That included gyms, salons and personal aesthetics.
“We know the importance of massage therapy for recovery from acute pain and chronic pain,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Tuesday.
“Our health professions and individual Albertans have raised concerns that the current restrictions have stopped patients here in Alberta from accessing this care.”
He said the province worked with the chief medical officer of health to adjust the restrictions.
“We’ve worked with Dr. Hinshaw to grant an exemption to allow massage therapy services for patients or clients with either a prescription from a physician or a referral from another regulated health professional, understanding that many massage therapists work in the same clinic as a chiropractor or a physiotherapist or get their referrals from a chiropractor or physiotherapist.”
Shandro said there will be requirements for hygiene standards, personal protective equipment, masks and other barriers for massage therapy services.
“Dr. Hinshaw has also made amendments to allow for private counselling services,” Shandro said.
“We recognize that these services are critical, especially over the holiday season.”
“We’ve made an amendment to allow visits at home at the end of life for a family member, a friend, a faith leader or other person,” Shandro said.
“The final moments of life are precious and this exemption will allow for them to be shared with loved ones.”
People living alone
The premier also announced minor changes to the province’s public health restrictions for a few days over Christmas.
From Dec. 23 to Dec. 28, the province will allow single Albertans to attend one event at another household. Households may host up to two single people for an event, Jason Kenney added.
He said the change was made based on advice from the health minister following consultation with the chief medical officer of health and the COVID-19 cabinet committee.
“It will make a world of difference for single Albertans who otherwise would not be able to visit their families over Christmas,” Kenney said.
“The prohibition on large social gatherings remains over Christmas and I regret that we could not make broader exemptions for holiday gatherings.”
Hinshaw explained each individual can only attend one event during this time, adding people still have the option of hosting virtual gatherings instead.
Hinshaw said it’s important for those gathering with people at higher risk of severe outcomes to follow safety measures for the entire visit.
“Please find a way to ensure that that person can participate in the event while still being able to maintain two metres of distance from all others,” she stressed.
“You can also take practical steps to protect them by making sure they have access to hand sanitizer at all times and you can consider asking others not typically in contact with that person to wear masks while in a room with them where distancing may not be possible at all times.”
Officials said the one-time exemption to the gathering rule was made to balance mental wellness for people living alone with the need to limit COVID-19 spread.
“Any additional social contact does increase some risk of transmission but we have to balance that off against many other considerations, especially mental health considerations,” Kenney said. “We know that Christmastime, for lots of reason, is bound up with people’s emotional and mental health.”
“We already had a mental health crisis in Alberta pre-COVID; COVID has only deepened that,” Kenney said.
“If this is one small way that people who feel particularly isolated at Christmas can feel a renewed sense of connection, being cared for, then I think that is a reasonable measure for us to take.”
When asked if he was concerned Albertans might use this exemption as a loophole to attend multiple gatherings over the holidays, the premier had a concise message.
“If you’re not inclined to follow public health restrictions, fine. But how about considering the unintended impact you could have on others?”
“Remember that there are people who have passed away in Alberta that got together around dining room tables at Thanksgiving… We know that people got infected, hospitalized, and went on to pass away from a virus they picked up from a social gathering at Thanksgiving.”