On Wednesday, the province announced its “Open For Summer” plan, which outlines how different sectors and activities will be allowed to reopen based on two key benchmarks: COVID-19 immunization rates and the number of Albertans in hospital.
The three-stage plan ends in lifting all public health restrictions “in only a few weeks…just in time for summer,” Premier Jason Kenney said.
Each stage will take effect two weeks after the vaccination and hospitalization thresholds are met.
Stage 1 requires 50 per cent of eligible Albertans over 12 to have received their first dose of vaccine and that hospitalizations be under 800 and declining.
Currently, there are 548 people in hospital and Alberta reached its 50 per cent vaccination milestone on May 18.
On Friday, May 28, the first part of Stage 1 will come into effect. It will expand the capacity limit for worship services to 15 per cent of fire code capacity.
The second part of Stage 1 will take effect June 1, allowing larger outdoor social gatherings (10 people, with distancing), outdoor patio dining (four people from same household or close contacts), outdoor physical, performance and recreational activities are permitted (10 people, with distancing), personal wellness services (by appointment) and expanded capacity for retail businesses (15 per cent of fire code occupancy).
Under Stage 1, wedding ceremonies can have up to 10 people but receptions are still not allowed, funeral services can have up to 20 people but receptions are still not allowed. Distancing and masking requirements remain.
“Stage 1 is good news and it keeps people outdoors, where it’s safer,” Kenney said.
Stage 2 will take effect two weeks after 60 per cent of eligible Albertans have received at least one dose of vaccine and there are fewer than 500 people in hospital and that number is declining. Stage 2 is expected to come into place in mid-June.
“Today, we sit at 58 per cent of all Albertans over the age of 12 having received at least one dose,” Kenney said.
“That’s only two per cent — or about 76,000 doses — shy of our target for Stage 2 reopening. So, with almost 90,000 appointments booked for today and tomorrow, and taking into account a roughly four-to-five per cent no-show rate we’ve seen lately, we could hit that trigger as early as tomorrow.”
“So that means Alberta would enter Stage 2 on or about June 10 as long as hospitalizations are below 500, a target that trends have us on track for.”
Stage 2 will allow libraries, movie theatres, theatres and arenas (one-third fire code capacity), gyms (solo and drop-in fitness with three-metre distancing), fitness classes (with three-metre distancing), restaurants and day camps to reopen.
Outdoor gatherings of 20 people (with distancing) will be allowed, six people will be able to dine out together inside or outside (no longer restricted to their household only), retail and worship capacity will be eased to one-third of fire code occupancy and youth and adult sports will be allowed to resume.
Personal wellness businesses can resume walk-in services. Post-secondary schools can resume in-person learning. The work-from-home order is lifted but still recommended.
Outdoor fixed seating facilities can open with one-third capacity under Stage 2. Public outdoor gatherings can increase to 150 people (with restrictions).
Under Stage 2, wedding ceremonies with up to 20 people are allowed. Receptions are allowed outdoors only. Funeral ceremonies stay at 20 people allowed and receptions are allowed outdoors only.
Distancing and masking requirements remain in effect.
Stage 3 will come two weeks after 70 per cent of eligible Albertans have received at least one dose of vaccine. There is no hospitalization threshold for Stage 3, but rates will be closely monitored, the premier said.
“Most health restrictions, including the ban on indoor social gatherings, will be history,” he said.
“Almost all the health restrictions will be gone.”
The mandatory isolation period for those who test positive for COVID-19 will remain, as will some measures to protect continuing care facilities and hospitals.
Stage 3 is expected to begin in early July.
“From Stage 2, we’d need to vaccinate another 380,000 over the age of 12 to reach the 70 per cent first dose threshold for Stage 3,” Kenney said.
“Between May 27 and June 14, we have 404,000 booked appointments. If these bookings hold, even taking projected no-shows into account, we could hit Stage 3, with a fully open summer, as early as June 28.
“If more Albertans book more vaccines more quickly, that day could even come more quickly,” Kenney said. “That’s just how close we might be, folks. It’s up to Albertans now.”
“You can do your part to speed up the full reopening by getting vaccinated as soon as possible. We could be fully open in just over a month.”
Kenney said the mandatory mask rule will likely be lifted — perhaps with some high-risk exceptions — as part of Stage 3.
The premier said the reopening strategy is contingent on Albertans continuing to get vaccinated.
“If you don’t like the current restrictions – and who does? — the best thing you can do to end them is to get vaccinated.”
Alberta will take a province-wide approach to easing the restrictions and the rules will be the same in all regions, regardless of their vaccination rates, Kenney said.
“We’re talking about the protection of the overall population here, about 4.5 million Albertans. That’s the science behind herd immunity when we look at the whole population.
“We are concerned where there are pockets of below average vaccination. We will make special efforts to reach out in those communities with both information and vaccination opportunities that break down barriers.”
Alberta Health’s vaccination rate map shows the High Level region is only about 11.3 per cent vaccinated with one dose.
Kenney said the government will encourage people in every part of the province to be vaccinated as quickly as possible but doesn’t want to see certain areas be stigmatized.
“We don’t want to get into a situation where we start shaming people or be seen as punishing people in a particular postal code or town or community because they’re not getting vaccinated at the same rate.”
Health Minister Tyler Shandro added that the provincial approach is something Alberta’s medical officers of health and public health officials have been looking at closely.
“When we take a look at the community protection that we need to be able to move forward in reopening with this open for summer plan, there may be regional differences, but what we need to be doing is looking at the protection of the community as a whole.
“There may be some pockets where there might be smaller levels of vaccination and there might be cases in those areas as a result. But we want is for the cases, for the province as a whole, and how that translates to pressure on our health-care system.”
Daily COVID-19 numbers
On Wednesday, 390 new COVID-19 cases were identified from 5,979 tests, putting the province’s positivity rate at about 6.5 per cent.
There are currently 10,953 active cases in Alberta.
“We have seen a steady decline in new cases across the province, which is helping bring our active case count down as well,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Tuesday.
Just two weeks ago, there were 24,962 active cases of COVID-19 in the province. Hinshaw called the decline “remarkable.”
Alberta’s R value — also known as the reproduction number — was 0.67 from May 17 to May 23.
As of Wednesday, 548 people were in hospital with COVID-19, 157 of whom were in the ICU.
Alberta Health reported six deaths related to COVID-19 on Wednesday, two of which had no known comorbidities. They were Albertans between the ages of 40 and 90, from the Edmonton, Calgary and South zones.
According to the province, 136 new variant cases were identified in the last 24 hours. With 3,460 active variant cases, they make up at least 31.6 per cent of all active cases. Alberta Health Services is no longer screening all positive cases for variants of concern.
Nearly 2,578,580 doses of vaccine have been administered.