Albertans told to stop having parties, gatherings at home to bend COVID-19 curve
Province rejects tighter restrictions as Albertans face ballooning COVID-19 caseload
Premier Jason Kenney is urging Albertans to forego parties and social gatherings in their homes to cap the surging number of COVID-19 cases in the province.
And while he refrained from imposing any mandatory restrictions in Edmonton and Calgary to protect public health, he didn't rule them out if the cases continue to skyrocket.
"We've seen other jurisdictions implement sweeping lockdowns, indiscriminately violating people's rights and destroying livelihoods," Kenney said at a news conference on Friday. "Nobody wants that to happen here in Alberta."
Alberta reported 609 new COVID-19 cases on Friday after a record 802 new cases on Thursday.
That brings the number of active case in the province to a record 6,822, significantly higher than the 6,230 reported Wednesday.
Kenney encouraged Albertans, especially those in Edmonton and Calgary, to resist holding at-home social gatherings, which he said is one of the main drivers of the spread of the coronavirus disease in the province.
"Now just is not the time to host parties or large extended family dinners," the premier said. "Until cases slow, we must press pause on hosting any gatherings involving people outside your core family or immediate household."
The problem, he said, is when people get together with family and friends, they stop thinking about COVID-19.
"People are not going to be sitting around their dining room table or living room watching a movie typically wearing masks and all the usual protocols and guidelines."
But the no-party request is only a strong recommendation, he said. It's not mandatory and, as such, it won't be enforced.
"We're not going to be sending out police to monitor this," he said. "As much as what we've done, this is appealing to people to exercise personal and collective responsibility, so that we can avoid having to use more stringent measures."
Although there are no new mandatory restrictions for Edmonton and Calgary, other parts of Alberta will face a 15-person gathering limit restriction if they are on the province's watchlist for COVID-19, Kenney said. As of Friday, there are at least 40 communities that have "watch" status or higher. That restriction is already in place in the province's two largest cities.
And while Kenney clearly prefers to avoid mandatory measures, he'll bring them in if needed.
"I've been clear from the get-go that as much as I believe Albertans want to retain what I call 'responsible freedom,' in all of this, if folks don't respond to the kind of voluntary measures we're calling on today in Calgary and Edmonton — no more at home parties, for example — we will have no choice but to bring in more stringent measures. I don't want to do that," he said.
"I ask them to be compassionate for the people who are barely hanging on."
During the news conference, he outlined why the province is resisting tighter restrictions or an outright lockdown.
Goal isn't 'to take COVID-19 to zero'
"Our goal is not to take COVID-19 to zero," Kenney said. "Our goal is to keep the spread under control so it does not overwhelm the health-care system, without hammering our broader social, economic, mental and physical health.
"If the goal was just single-mindedly to take the virus to zero, as some other jurisdictions have tried to do, then that's a pretty easy policy decision in a way. You just impose maximum restrictions, lock everyone in their homes, stay at home orders, shut down every business, close the schools and watch massive social and economic damage ripple through society."
Alberta has demonstrated over the past nine months that people can live responsibly with COVID-19, using limited, targeted, data-based measures that resist widespread damage to the economy, Kenneys said.
"The cost to people's lives and livelihoods of trying to go to zero until there's a vaccine — and we don't know when that would be — would simply be unacceptable in our view. That's not a question of ideology, we're following data. We're following evidence."
Kenney said the province's data indicates it's safer to eat out at a restaurant at a table than to attend a private gathering at someone's home.
"People who are hounding us to shut down restaurants. Why?" he said.
"Our data indicates that 0.7 per cent of identifiable transmission has occurred in restaurants and similar businesses. So what we're doing today is we're focusing on an area of much more significant transmission and a much less-structured environment, which is at-home social gatherings and social gatherings more generally."
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, told reporters her advice to the premier has always been about not only protecting Albertans from COVID-19 but their overall health.
"We know that some of the measures that other jurisdictions have taken of course slowed the spread of COVID-19 but can have other health impacts.
"The advice that I have provided has always been to consider both the impacts of COVID and the impacts of restrictions."
WATCH | Alberta Premier Jason Kenney calls for pause on social gatherings:
Here is a breakdown of the 6,822 active cases in the province, with the Calgary zone registering more active cases than Edmonton zone for the first time since September.
- Calgary zone: 2,886
- Edmonton zone: 2,819
- North zone: 431
- South zone: 398
- Central zone: 255
- Unknown: 33
As of Friday, 171 people were in hospital with the disease, 33 of them in ICU.
Kenney said if case numbers continue to grow at the current rate, the number of hospitalizations will rise to almost 300 in the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, the disease took nine more lives over the last two days. The deaths included:
- A woman in her 70s, another in her 80s and a man also in his 80s, all linked to the outbreak at the Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre in Edmonton.
- A woman in her 70s, another in her 90s and a man in his 90s, linked to the South Terrace Continuing Care Centre in Edmonton.
- A man in his 80s linked to the outbreak at Mayerthorpe Extendicare in the north zone.
- A woman in her 90s linked to an outbreak Mount Royal Revera in Calgary.
- A man in his 90s in the Edmonton zone.
Other provinces taking different tack
Outside Alberta, many other Canadians are living under stricter provincial health measures.
Winnipeg and surrounding areas are five days into sweeping shutdowns that include sports facilities and in-restaurant dining. Manitoba has pledged $2.5 million to expand enforcement including an improved tip-line to report rule-breakers.
British Columbia has limited gatherings at private homes to household members and six guests.
Saskatchewan has scaled back gatherings from 15 to 10, while Saskatoon residents won't be able to drink alcohol in nightclubs after 10 p.m.
On Thursday, Quebec Premier François Legault ruled out the reopening of gyms, museums, concert halls and restaurants anytime soon, despite a request from Montreal public health officials to roll back the restrictions. Quebecers are being asked not to gather with people outside of their households.
In Ontario, gyms and indoor dining are set to reopen in more restricted regions such as Peel and Ottawa. But the province has introduced a colour-coded system for restrictions to respond to a region's caseload and transmission level.
On Friday, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said it's up to her department to provide guidance that the provinces and territories implement "taking into account their local epidemiology and particular capacities and circumstances."
Tam said a targeted approach is most effective.
"If the balance is tilted and the public health system is overwhelmed, then some of these more restrictive measures are coming in, so it's really important," Tam said. "But we would like everybody to help so that we don't have to do any broad public health measures."
With files from Wallis Snowdon, Terry Reith and Kory Siegers