“This pause is prudent and it’s essential, but I know that for many people this is a disappointment,” Shandro said

Author of the article:

Lauren Boothby

Publishing date:

Mar 22, 2021  •  4 days ago  •  4 minute read  •  143 Comments

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, gives an update on Alberta’s COVID-19 cases on Feb. 22, 2021. Photo by Chris Schwarz /Government of Alberta The province decided not to ease any further COVID-19 restrictions Monday as hospitalizations and case counts continued to climb.

Monday was the earliest the Alberta could have moved to Step 3 of the reopening plan which would allow movie theatres, museums, art galleries, zoos, casinos, and bingo halls to open, allow for people to gather indoors, and lift more health rules impacting places of worship.

But moving forward can only happen if COVID-19 hospitalizations are below 300 and dropping, Health Minister Shandro said at a news conference. There were 280 people in hospital as of Monday.

“This pause is prudent and it’s essential, but I know that for many people this is a disappointment,” he said.

“I know that Albertans are tired of having to worry about this virus and the risk to their families and loved ones … but the reality is that given recent case numbers and the number of people in hospital due to COVID-19 is likely to go back over the 300 threshold in the next week, so it would be irresponsible and unfair to Albertans to ease measures now only to reinstate them days later.”

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Hospitalizations have gone up seven days in a row, an upward trend Alberta hasn’t seen since October. Shandro said once hospitalizations begin declining again they will consider moving into the next step.

Alberta reported 456 more cases of COVID-19 Monday including 110 of the variant strains, and five more people have died. There were 6,175 active cases including 1,407 in the Edmonton Zone.

Disease spreading in homes, social gatherings, restaurants

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Monday “COVID-19 is still very much with us” and it’s not the time to lift restrictions or flout the rules.

Despite around 488,000 vaccinations given and more on the way, she said if the pandemic moves into a “growth phase” again before enough people are vaccinated, numbers will keep going up.

Asked about the source of the spike in infections and whether it was connected to earlier reopenings, Hinshaw said COVID-19 is spreading within households and indoor social gatherings. Indoor social gatherings are currently prohibited but expected to be allowed in Step 3.

Hinshaw did not provide specifics on the spread in different venues but said variants have spread quickly in some restaurants and workplaces.

Rules around indoor fitness, banquet and community halls, conference centres and hotels, sports and recreation, performances, retail and libraries were loosened in Step 2 earlier this month.

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Waiting for Step 3 right: expert University of Alberta infectious disease expert Dr. Illan Schwartz said opening more activities right now would be the “wrong decision” and cases could go up.

Whether it’s that the more-infectious variants are circulating or the messaging around the virus isn’t getting through, he said something isn’t working.

Lifting more restrictions risks giving the false impression that it’s safe and OK to relax, he said.

“Not because those new rules would affect those particular situations where spread is taking place, but because the people that are having these indoor gatherings are taking their cues from these announcements and from the general state of the pandemic.”

Metro Cinema Society executive director Dan Smith said they want to reopen their movie theatre in Garneau but only when it’s safe to do so.

“We’re very eager to reopen and to have people back in the theatre, but it’s important to us that it’s also done in the safest way possible,” he said. “So, if this was the safe decision that’s in line with the health recommendations, then that’s what we were looking for.”

NDP health critic David Shepherd said while he’s glad Step 3 has been paused, the province still needs to release the internal modelling data and written recommendations from Dr. Hinshaw.

“There are rising case numbers, rising variant cases, and rising hospitalizations in Alberta, but the premier failed to show his face, and failed to offer Albertans a plan to respond to this growing danger,” he said in a news release.

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Article content “A third wave is rising, but the decisions the government makes this week will determine how large and how deadly that wave is. Now more than ever, Jason Kenney needs to come clean with Albertans about what he knows and what his intentions are.”

Meantime, Edmonton Valley Zoo plans to re-open outdoor spaces to the public on Thursday, and indoor spaces will open if restrictions on zoos lift in Step 3, according to a statement on its website.

— With files from Lisa Johnson

COVID-19: Doctor urges caution as Alberta breaks variant case record again ‘This is the preventable wave’: Alberta COVID-19 case, variant surge continues She lost both parents to COVID-19, and almost died herself. What grief taught one Edmonton-area woman about hope and love For more on Alberta’s vaccine rollout, read our guide driven by reader questions.

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