Alberta reports 800 cases, introduces 2-week stop to group fitness and liquor-sales curfew

EDMONTON — The Alberta government is introducing new measures to reduce Albertans’ close contact with each other and, hopefully, the spread of COVID-19, too.

Premier Jason Kenney called the actions “temporary, time-limited measures to protect the health care system” during a Thursday provincial update, during which he also reported the province had counted 860 new cases of the disease.

The measures include:

  • A two-week stop to all group fitness, team sports, and group performance activities in Edmonton and surrounding areas, Calgary and surrounding areas, Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Fort McMurray and Red Deer. The rule will be in effect Nov. 13 to 27.
  • A two-week liquor-sales curfew where restaurants, pubs, bars and lounges in communities on AHS’ enhanced status list must stop alcohol sales by 10 p.m. They must also close by 11 p.m.

Kenney said many operators in these sectors had done an excellent job of making their businesses safe to visit and work, but that action is needed.

The province is instating a voluntary ban on social gatherings in homes for all communities on AHS’ enhanced status list.

“No one wants a government tell us how many people we can have in our homes. But the alternative to voluntary action by Albertans is mandatory restrictions like in most other cases backed by fines.

“And if we continue to see large, private parties that ignore these recommendations, we may have to consider enforcement action,” Kenney told Albertans.

Staring Nov. 13, all communities under enhanced measures must limit wedding and funeral ceremonies to 50 people.

As well, Alberta is asking places of worship to limit their attendance to one-third of capacity, and for employers to reduce the amount of staff who are in office at any one time where possible.

This is a breaking news story. Information will be updated as it becomes available. Our original story follows: 

 

An Alberta government staffer has confirmed to CTV News the province will introduce new restrictions Thursday afternoon aimed at reducing COVID-19 spread in bars, restaurants, gyms and places of worship.

The specifics are unknown, however, the premier will join Alberta’s chief medical officer of health for the provincial COVID-19 update at 3:30 p.m. MST.

At the beginning of the week, Alberta’s top doctor said officials were “considering which further steps might be needed.”

A sociology professor at the University of Alberta believes the government needs to do more than encourage personal responsibility.

“We’re past the point where just telling people to be responsible is an adequate or even a good response to what’s going on… We’ve kind of hit saturation,” Amy Kaler told CTV News Edmonton.

The sociologist has primarily studied social response to HIV/AIDS in south and eastern Africa, as well as North America.

Although the two viruses are very different, she says they offer some of the same patterns.

“There’s going to be a chunk of the population – and it’s amazing to watch the same thing happen here as was happening in Malawi and Uganda 25 years ago – for whom this will not be real until either they or somebody they are close to gets sick with COVID,” Kaler commented.

According to the professor, a portion of the population is personally invested in believing COVID-19 is a hoax or that public health measures go too far. Therefore, she says it is the government’s responsibility to remove or reduce their opportunity to participate in transmission – by anything from a total lockdown like France implemented, or a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood lockdown like New York City used.

“They’re both going to be unpopular because people have this idea that we don’t like being told what to do. But some combination of those is necessary.”

Kenney has resisted shutting down businesses, saying household gatherings are the main cause for the spike, and that getting Alberta through the crisis means balancing health, the economy and the community.

According to officials, about 40 per cent of cases are being spread at home and private events. 

The premier’s appearance Thursday will be the first time he has taken part in a pandemic briefing since Nov. 6, when Alberta counted more than 1,400 new cases over two days and the officials outlined more guidelines for communities where case counts were surging.

Since then, however, Alberta has reported between 600 and 900 cases daily, with an all-time record of 919 on Saturday.

According to the latest data, there are nearly 8,100 active cases in the province: 3,434 in the Calgary zone, 3,255 in the Edmonton zone, and 1,400 more outside the major metropolitan areas.

Kaler said if she were to sit down with Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro, the first thing she’d advise is to “stop ditzing around with this tracing app thing.”

Then, she’d tell them that public health measures always look like an overreach.

“They always look like an overreaction. In fact, that’s how you know that a preventive measure was successful: is that people look back on it or at it and say, ‘Wow, that was just way too much. We didn’t need all of that.’

“Because it’s the disaster that doesn’t happen,” Kaler explained.

“Just hearing, ‘This is too much, this is going too far,’ doesn’t actually mean you’re going too far. It may mean what you’re doing is working and you are preventing the catastrophes.”

Watch Kenney and Hinshaw speak live on CTVNewsEdmonton.ca at 3:30 p.m.

DOCTORS, HEALTH CARE UNIONS URGE ALBERTA TO TAKE SHORT, SHARP ACTION

More than 430 Alberta doctors and three major health unions have urged the provincial government to invoke short, sharp public health restrictions to reverse the soaring rate of COVID-19.

The physicians, in a public letter issued Thursday, suggest time-limited restrictions, including suspending indoor dining, bars, theatres and religious services.

“We are extremely worried about the state of our health-care system right now,” Leyla Asadi, an infectious disease specialist and a co-author of the letter, said in an interview.

“We don’t need to go back to the lockdown of the spring right now. There are other things we can do, but unfortunately we’ve seen how this story plays out (in other jurisdictions) and lockdowns become an inevitability because the health-care systems become so overwhelmed.

“The longer we wait, the longer we’re tempting fate to have to implement those very harsh, strict measures.”

The doctors, in the letter, suggest other short-term measures: directives for people to work from home if possible, limiting contacts to those within a household or support bubble, and restrictions on group recreation and sports activities.

Three unions – the United Nurses of Alberta, the Health Sciences Association of Alberta and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees – also signed the letter.

AUPE vice president Susan Slade said there are COVID-19 outbreaks at 38 sites where her union’s members work, and that concerns for their health and safety are growing.

“We have correctional officers who are basically prisoners now — under public health order allowed only to go home and to work,” said Slade in a statement.

“We have workers in long-term and continuing-care homes who are traumatized at the number of deaths they have witnessed among people they care about very deeply. We have staff in hospitals run off their feet and forced into overtime, because so many of their colleagues are off sick or on forced isolation.”

ALBERTA AT A ‘CRITICAL JUNCTURE’

Among the worst outbreaks are an Edmonton long-term care facility with more than 140 cases between staff and its elderly residents, and the Foothills Medical Centre – one of three Calgary hospitals experiencing an outbreak – where 90 patients and staff have been infected.

More than 200 Albertans are in hospital with COVID-19.

Yet, the province has not yet introduced public health measures beyond 15-person gathering limits and a “strong suggestion” Albertans limit their number of cohorts to three and refrain from private get-togethers.

In her last in-person update on Monday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Alberta Health was assessing its options.

“If needed, we do not need to wait 14 days before recommending additional measures. This is a critical juncture and we need to get our cases down to below 100 new cases per day in our big cities with a growth rate or R-value of less than one.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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