The Alberta government announced Saturday that it had added “limited school and minor sport training” as well as dance and gymnastic classes to Monday’s Step 1 of the province’s staggered COVID-19 relaunch plan.
Previously, only school-related sports were set to be included in Step 1.
Now, effective Feb. 8, children and youth will be permitted to participate in lessons, practices and conditioning activities for indoor and outdoor team-based minor sports and athletics.
Games remain prohibited.
While Alberta Health had initially told Global News on Saturday morning that dance and gymnastics were not included in the changes, it clarified in the afternoon that those would also be permitted.
“Practices, lessons and training for group dance and gymnastics activities are included in the team-based lessons, practices and training allowed under Step 1,” said Tom McMillan with Alberta Health.
“This is for team-based activities only, where training goes beyond what one-on-one could offer. The intent of this addition is to provide the opportunity for a team to supplement any one-on-one training with team-based training in a safe and responsible way.”
McMillan also apologized for the “confusion” around the rules. Previously, Step 1 of the relaunch plan would have allowed one-on-one training with a coach.
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The announcement to expand Step 1 to include team training was a surprise — but a welcome one — for many coaches and athlete groups in the province.
“We were beyond thrilled,” said Tara Pickford, the co-founder of Dance Safe Alberta and owner of Ambition Performing Arts dance studio in Airdrie. “It was a big surprise to us. We were preparing for one-to-one lessons, and to wake up to this information this morning, it’s dreamy.
“The majority of (dance) studios across Alberta need to see six to seven students in a classroom in order to make a classroom viable,” Pickford said. “One to one lessons doesn’t cover, doesn’t come close to covering those bills for us. So this is really exciting.”
“We were actually on a hockey call this morning when we saw this tweet from Dr. Hinshaw,” said Steve Hogel, the general manager for Hockey Edmonton. “It made you do a double-take, and the official release came out, and then we thought, ‘This is big!’
“There’s more excitement about getting kids back on the ice but there is a degree of frustration because, obviously, a little more advance notice would help us in our planning.”
The announcement comes just days after Hockey Alberta cancelled all minor hockey games for the remainder of the 2020-21 season.
On Saturday, Hockey Alberta said it is reviewing the announcement.
“It is definitely a positive step for allowing players back onto the ice for hockey activities. Hockey Alberta is reviewing what is now allowed and will update our members as soon as possible on ‘Hockey’s Path Forward.'”
Hockey Alberta has released guidance, based on the government’s rules, for how practices can operate under Step 1.
According to Hockey Alberta, players and coaches from different teams will be permitted to train together. Coaches will also be allowed to lead multiple ice sessions, although there can be no overlap between player groups.
The government rules include physical distancing — three metres between players for indoor activities and two for outdoors.
Safety measures that must be in place for the team sports training, dance and gymnastics also include a maximum of 10 people including coaches and trainers and limited access to change rooms and washrooms.
Coaches must be masked at all times, and participants must also be masked when they are not engaged in the physical activity.
“While these activities are included in Step 1, there are strong measures in place that must continue to be followed,” said a statement from Health Minister Tyler Shandro.
The Step 1 minor sport training rules apply only to participants who are 18 years old or younger.
“Despite this small change, one thing remains the same: we all need to be cautious and make safe choices to limit the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw. “It is vital that everyone involved diligently follows the health measures as we move forward.
“Together, we can continue to reduce the spread and keep protecting our health system.”
Other aspects included in Step 1 on Feb. 8 are the reopening of in-person dining as well as one-on-one training in gyms.