Alberta’s COVID-19 public health restrictions will ease a little bit on Monday, Jan. 18, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced Thursday.
As of Jan. 18, outdoor social gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed as long as everyone is wearing masks and keeping at least two metres apart.
Indoor gatherings are still not allowed.
Shandro also announced personal wellness services will be allowed to reopen Monday by appointment only for one-on-one services.
Businesses and customers are expected to continue to follow the health guidelines, including mandatory masks and enhanced cleaning practices.
Personal wellness services include businesses like salons, barbershops, aesthetics, reflexology, tattoo and piercing shops.
“We introduced new mandatory health measures in December, with a goal of limiting as much in-person interaction as possible,” Shandro said.
“We can’t entirely ease up on this goal but we can make some adjustments.”
Effective Jan. 18, the capacity limit for funerals is being raised to 20 people, as long as people wear masks and observe physical distancing. Funeral receptions, however, are still prohibited.
“We made these decisions very carefully,” Shandro said, “and these measures were eased based on the advice of our chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw.”
“Although we’ve seen a decline in transmission, our health-care system is still at risk,” Hinshaw said.
“We must remain diligent in our efforts to bring our numbers down even further.
“By easing some measures like outdoor gathering limits, we hope to support Albertans’ mental health, while still following other restrictions that are helping us reduce case numbers.”
Shandro said Alberta wants to stop going back and forth between loosening and tightening the rules, but stressed “case numbers and hospitalizations remain high.”
“A lot of restaurants in particular have identified to us a concern that they don’t want the yo-yoing of opening and closing, opening and closing.
“We’re also committed to giving people notice,” the health minister said.
“This first move is a test case,” Hinshaw said.
“This is our opportunity to give Albertans a little bit more freedom and the ability to do a few more activities in a safe way.
“We are going to be able to then consider, going forward, whether or not we can ease a few more measures if, despite these decisions and actions today, we continue to see that downward trend in our hospitalization, ICU admissions, cases and positivity.”
Provincial and regional trends will continue to be monitored and assessed over the coming weeks to determine if further easing of restrictions may be considered, the government said.
Hinshaw said officials will be looking at a few specific factors and will need to see more improvement before easing more rules.
“Continuing reductions in our hospitalizations and ICU admissions… that is absolutely essential,” she said. “We need to see a reduction in new case numbers and our positivity rate.”
If hospitalizations and case numbers continue to go down, Shandro said, “we’ll continue to open things up. It’s that simple.”
“We can’t say when measures will be eased next but we’re monitoring the situation closely and meeting with Dr. Hinshaw often,” the health minister added.
Caroline Kick is the owner of Kick Salon in Edmonton. She was thrilled to hear she will be allowed to reopen on Monday.
“I haven’t talked to clients yet but my phone has certainly lit up from my staff saying, ‘Oh my God, we just got great news that we can open.’ I can hear my phone going off already so I’m sure clients are giving me the heads-up and being excited for me.”
Kick has been in business for 20 years and recently finished building a brand new salon. She said the pandemic has been hard on business owners and employees. She employs 18 staff members.
“It’s been tough, for sure. The first lockdown was hard enough and then to have to go through this a second time, it’s definitely been a challenge for all of us,” Kick said.
“It’s financially hard on myself being a business owner, but it’s equally hard on all of my staff. It’s just a really tough time financially for everybody, so I know this is going to be a big relief. We’re going to be busy, clients are going to be coming in through the door excited to see a new salon, girls are going to be excited to be working in a new salon. So it’s just positive news all around.”
Small and Medium Enterprise Relaunch Grant
Jobs Minister Doug Schweitzer also announced Thursday the province was expanding its relaunch grant for small businesses to include new businesses who started recently.
Businesses that started operating between March 1 and Oct. 31, 2020 can now apply. The province says that means as many as 5,000 more Alberta businesses are eligible.
Schweitzer said opening a business during a pandemic is probably one of “the most Albertan things” he could think of.
“We want to be there to support you.”
New Alberta businesses impacted by public health orders have to show they’ve seen a 30 per cent reduction of revenue (using revenue figures from November or December 2020 compared with any prior month between March to October 2020). The payment is 15 per cent of their monthly revenue, for a maximum of $15,000 in funding available for each business.
Daily COVID-19 numbers
Alberta Health confirmed 967 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday. More than 16,000 tests were completed over the last 24 hours.
That puts Alberta’s positivity rate at 5.8 per cent.
There are 806 Albertans in hospital with the disease, 136 of whom were in intensive care.
Twenty-one additional deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours. That means Alberta’s death toll from the virus is 1,389.
Roughly 8,500 Albertans were immunized on Wednesday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday.
She said that means about 67,000 total doses have been administered so far.
However, Alberta’s top doctor said there are still vaccine appointments available this weekend for eligible health-care workers. Hinshaw urged anyone who is eligible to check their email and book an appointment as soon as possible.
“Right now there are 16,000 appointments that are available through AHS, 16,000 total for Saturday and Sunday,” Shandro added. “For anybody who is eligible to make sure you’re booking your appointment for this weekend.”
On Thursday morning, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced the first-round of vaccine had been delivered at all continuing care facilities in the Calgary zone and shared a photo of Helen, 83, who received her vaccine.
Later Thursday, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said both the Calgary zone and the North zone had completed first doses for residents at all continuing care facilities.
“More than 8,000 long-term care and designated supporting living residents in the Calgary zone have received the vaccine, and more than 1,900 residents in the North Zone,” he said in message on Twitter.
“Thank you to all of our teams in the Calgary zone for helping us complete this significant achievement,” the premier tweeted. “We are so grateful to all our staff working tirelessly to immunize vulnerable Albertans across the province.”
Almost three million COVID-19 tests have been completed since the beginning of the pandemic.
Of the 21 deaths reported Thursday, 11 were in the Edmonton zone, four were in the North zone, four were in the Calgary zone, one was in the Central zone and one was in the South zone.
In the Edmonton zone, a woman in her 60s linked to the outbreak at the Edmonton General Care Centre died. Comorbidities are unknown in this case, Alberta Health said. A man in his 70s from Capital Care Lynnwood died. His case included comorbidities. A man in his 80s from the Benevolence Care Centre passed. His case included comorbidities. A woman in her 80s from Chartwell Heritage Valley died. Her case included comorbidities. A woman in her 80s linked to the outbreak at St. Thomas Health Centre, whose case included comorbidities, also dies. A man in his 90s from Kiwanis Place Lodge died. The case included comorbidities. Two women in their 80s and three men in their 80s also died. All five deaths included comorbidities.
In the North zone, two people linked to the outbreak at Prairie Lake Supportive Living died: a man in his 50s and a man in his 90s. Both cases included comorbidities. A man in his 70s died. His case included comorbidities. A woman in her 50s with no known comorbidities also passed.
In the Calgary zone, a man in his 80s linked to the outbreak at Intercare Southwood died. His death included comorbidities. A man in his 80s from Bethany Riverview, whose case included comorbidities, also died. A woman in her 80s from St. Marguerite Manor passed. Her case included comorbidities. A man in his 90s also died. This case included comorbidities.
A man in his 50s died in the Central zone. This case included comorbidities.
A woman in her 90s linked to the outbreak at Meadowlands in the South zone also died. The case included comorbidities.
With files from Caley Ramsay, Global NewsView link »