New restrictions announced for Alberta as 860 COVID-19 cases, 10 deaths reported Thursday

Alberta is ramping up COVID-19 restrictions, as hospitals struggle to keep up with escalating infections. But as Heather Yourex-West explains, the new measures fall short of the 'circuit breaker lockdown' that some doctors were pushing for.

New targeted restrictions are on the way for some Alberta regions in hopes of bringing spiking COVID-19 cases under control.

Indoor group fitness classes and team sports will be prohibited for two weeks from Nov. 13-27, Premier Jason Kenney announced Thursday afternoon. This applies to the Calgary area, Edmonton area, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, Lethbridge and Red Deer.

The above restrictions do not apply to junior, college and university sports. Kenney said they have additional public health measures in place to limit the risk of exposure.

Restaurants and pubs in the above areas, as well as areas on “enhanced status” must stop liquor sales by 10 p.m. and close by 11 p.m. This measure will also be in place from Nov. 13-27.

Kenney also said amateur singing, dancing and theatre groups will also have to take a two-week break when enhanced pandemic measures begin Friday.

“This two-week push is, I believe, our last chance to avoid more restrictive measures that I and most Albertans desperately want to avoid,” Kenney said.

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Additional public health measures will also be implemented in all regions under enhanced status. The following measures will be in place until further notice:

  • Maximum attendance of 50 at wedding or funeral ceremonies
  • It is recommended all faith-based activities limit attendance to one-third capacity per service
  • Residents should not hold social gatherings within their homes and should not plan social gatherings outside their community
  • It is recommended employers in office settings implement measures to reduce the number of employees in the workplace at one time

“These measures collectively are meant to reduce the number of close contacts that Albertans have with others in the weeks to come to try aggressively to bring our numbers down,” Kenney said.

“This must be taken seriously. We are putting our faith in the good judgement of Albertans.”

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the measures announced Thursday target areas of risk.

“We know that as community transmission grows and as our positivity rates increase in many areas across the province, that when you have a group of people coming together, potentially engaging in activities like fitness activities, exercise or singing, that those are the kinds of activities that can potentially cause spread from one to many if there is a bit of a deviation or a slip up in the protocols.”

Hinshaw stressed the opportunity for these measures to be effective rests in Albertans’ hands.

“We want to encourage all Albertans to go above and beyond, to look at these measures and embrace them for two weeks,” she said. “If we can put a dedicated effort into reducing our close contacts, to distancing, to masking — if we can do all of those things together, that is the opportunity to have these measures make a difference.”

The province said these measures will be monitored and additional measures will be implemented if needed.

“This is our chance,” Kenney said from home via teleconference.

“It’s no secret that I do not want to take an approach that restricts people’s fundamental rights and freedoms, their ability to gain a livelihood — I’m concerned about the broader social and health impacts of those things. However, if Albertans do not respond in a significant way over the next two weeks, we will have to consider additional targeted restrictive measures.”

Kenney said if the government continues to see large private parties, “we may have to consider enforcement action” with fines being a possibility.

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Daily case count, hospitalization numbers

The restrictions come as 860 new cases of COVID-19 were reported Thursday, along with 10 additional deaths from the disease. Alberta’s COVID-19 death toll has now reached 393.

“COVID is starting to win and we cannot let that happen,” Kenney said. “It’s almost certain that we’ve not yet seen the peak of the current increase.”

There were three deaths linked to the outbreak at the South Terrace Care Centre in Edmonton, which Alberta Health said were previously reported by Alberta Health Services. A man in his 60s, a man in his 70s and a woman in her 90s died.

There were three deaths linked to outbreaks at continuing care centres in the Calgary zone: a man in his 90s from Mount Royal Revera, a man in his 90s from Staywell Manor and a woman in her 90s from Extendicare Hillcrest.

The remaining deaths were not linked to continuing care and included a man in his 70s and two men in their 80s from the Calgary zone, as well as a man in his 80s from the Edmonton zone.

There were 225 people in hospital with COVID-19 Thursday, with 51 of those being treated in intensive care.

Kenney said the daily cases, hospitalizations and COVID-19 patients receiving intensive care are all more than double what they were at the height of the first wave of the pandemic last spring. He said 16 outbreaks are currently affecting nine health-care facilities across the province.

“Our rising community spread is putting our health-care system under real stress,” Kenney said. “We are at a dangerous juncture in our province.”

Thursday’s data pushed the number of active cases in Alberta to 8,305, the majority of which were in the Edmonton and Calgary zones.

Active cases of COVID:19 Thursday by zone:

  • Edmonton zone: 3,387
  • Calgary zone: 3,504
  • Central zone: 347
  • South zone: 518
  • North zone: 510
  • Unknown zone: 39

Physicians urge province to invoke sharp restrictions

More than 430 Alberta doctors and three major health unions wrote a letter to Kenney earlier Thursday, urging him to invoke short, sharp public health restrictions to reverse the soaring rate of COVID-19.

Dr. Joe Vipond is an emergency room doctor at Rockyview General Hospital in Calgary who signed the letter.

He said in an interview Thursday morning that the province needs to focus on closing things like bars and in-restaurant dining.

“I don’t think the government has quite grasped the seriousness of where we’re at and the depth of what we need to do in order to get out of this,” Vipond said.

“We can actually forecast the future because we’ve seen other jurisdictions walk down this moderate pathway — or these half measures — and it’s not pretty. So we know things are going to get much worse.”

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Vipond also said the government needs to implement mandatory masking across the province and provide better support for schools by making masks mandatory in classrooms and ensuring all schools have proper ventilation.

With a file from The Canadian Press.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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