While many Albertans expected the province to move into Step 3 of the COVID-19 reopening plan, officials didn’t budge and kept the province in Step 2.
Step 3 would have allowed things like indoor gatherings with restrictions and indoor team sports to resume, but officials cited rising case numbers, rising hospitalizations and further spread of COVID-19 variants as the reasoning behind not moving forward.
So if staying here doesn’t curb the spread, at what point would restrictions lifted when moving from Step 1 to 2 be put back into place?
Officials haven’t really given Albertans an answer this week.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro was first asked this question at the news conference on Tuesday when he announced Alberta would not be lifting restrictions.
He stressed the plan laid out by officials earlier this year for reopening was about moving forward, not backward, but there could be a time the province would be forced to restrict certain activities.
“It’s about looking at the data and where we see the cause of growth. If we, for example, saw it in (a) specific activity, there might be the imposition of further restrictions related to that activity.”
During her Wednesday news conference, chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said if variant cases continue to spread and variants become the dominant strain, more measures would likely be needed.
“If spread escalates, if we’re seeing the the spread and the transmission of our cases and particularly variant cases continuing to rise, it may be possible — it may be necessary to bring in additional restrictions”
But then during her news conference on Thursday, Hinshaw was asked what specific indicators the province was watching and what the threshold was for implementing new restrictions.
Hinshaw said it was important to be looking at a number of indicators including positivity rate, new case numbers, the R-value and variant spread in order to get a complete picture, but didn’t offer a specific threshold for new restrictions.
“For example, if our new cases are stable but our positivity rate is climbing, it could be because we’re not having people going for testing,” she said. “We can’t look at any one thing and point to that as the issue that that would trigger a particular restriction needing to be considered.
“We do have to look at that whole package and all of those together to get that full picture.”
When asked about the possibility of new restrictions on Friday, Premier Jason Kenney echoed Hinshaw’s statement about watching a number of indicators but also didn’t specify any metric for implementing any new restrictions.
“I was clear when we launched the path forward in the first week of February that if we saw a dangerous spike that in our view threatened the capacity of our health-care system, that we would be prepared to act with additional targeted public health measures. I hope we don’t have to do that and really, the single most powerful way we can prevent that is vaccines.”
Earlier this week, the province’s R-value — or the number of people an infected person is infecting — was at 1.14 per cent.
Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Alberta, told Global News at the time there is clearly more transmission.
But she questions whether the current restrictions are enough based on the fact it’s not clear where transmission is occurring.
“Between variants of concern and where we are seeing transmission, I think it should be on the table that if we have to dial back some of the things that have had reduced restrictions, it should be on the table because we know it’s not for that long,” she said.
Dr. Darren Markland, a critical care physician at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, feels Alberta is on the upswing of the so-called “third wave.”
He told Global News earlier this week that action needs to be taken now before history repeats itself.
“Once we do see numbers in hospitalization happen, we will go back to where we were. We can prevent that by doing it now. We can close down restaurants, bars, in-person worship now before it gets really bad,” he said.
“The bitter reality is anyone who dies from COVID now is a preventable death. We have a viable vaccination strategy.