Edmonton

COVID-19 complaints flood Alberta Health Services in week since new restrictions

Alberta Health Services says they’ve received more than 1,347 complaints and requests related to COVID-19 public health orders in the week since new restrictions went into effect on Sept. 20.

AHS received 1,347 complaints across province, 464 in Edmonton since Sept. 20

Some restaurants and pubs require proof of vaccination but patrons still must wear masks when unseated. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Alberta Health Services says they've received more than 1,347 complaints and requests related to COVID-19 public health orders in the week since new restrictions went into effect on Sept. 20.

In Edmonton alone, AHS received 464 complaints between Sept. 20 and Sept. 27, spokesperson Kerry Williamson told CBC News Monday.

The province requires that even with proof of vaccination, patrons must continue to wear masks inside stores and when walking around establishments. 

Rob Browatzke, co-owner of Evolution Wonderlounge in downtown Edmonton, said that may not be clear to some. 

He's asking for proof of vaccination and enforcing the mask requirement but Browatzke has heard of others who are not. 

"The hope is that AHS and AGLC will talk to venues — remind them what the policies are,"  Browatzke said Monday.

He said if authorities clarify rules, venues will hopefully comply. 

"Because there's a little bit of lack of clarity there," Browatzke said. "Hopefully this is all we have to do and we don't have to go back any further." 

Rob Browatzke, co-owner of Evolution Wonderlounge in downtown Edmonton, said he's enforcing the mask mandate but it's not easy. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Maskless crowds at clubs

Videos circulated on social media over the weekend show a number of Edmonton clubs packed with maskless patrons.

The posts were originally posted as Instagram stories, which stay on that platform for 24 hours and are then automatically taken down. 

On Monday, CBC News reached out to three establishments about the videos but they have not responded.

AHS said public health inspectors work with businesses and organizations to ensure establishments and people are complying with health orders. 

"Our first step is always education," Williamson said in an email. "It is only when significant risk is identified or continued non-compliance is noted that AHS resorts to enforcement action."

As of Monday, Edmonton police service had not given out tickets related to COVID-19 public health orders since Sept. 20, EPS communications said. 

On-and-off restrictions

Amy Kaler, a sociology professor at the University of Alberta, attributes lax behaviour toward COVID-19 public health orders to fatigue of following rules. 

Kaler said the on-and-off restrictions over the past 18 months have not helped.

"It's been a year and a half — we've been open-closed, open-closed, wear a mask, don't wear a mask," Kaler said Monday.

With the fatigue and confusion, Kaler argues, many people aren't making logical, rational or data-driven decisions. 

"We need to remove the possibility for people to do stupid things," Kaler said. "Not because we want to punish people or want to make them suffer, but because that's just how human beings are." 

The province needs to take away the temptation to flout the measures by closing non-essential businesses, she said. 

Kaler agrees with Alberta's medical professionals, including former chief medical officer of health, Dr. James Talbot, calling for a firebreaker closure of non-essential businesses. 

Government framing

What's also made compliance more difficult, she argues, is the government's message that restrictions are a punishment to vaccinated people. 

"This framing of public health restrictions as some kind of horrible, unbearable burden that shouldn't be inflicted on people, I think is a terrible way to frame it," Kaler said. 

She said the burden is the knowledge that people are dying from COVID-19 every day and in Alberta at the highest rate in the country. 

Although Browatzke is clear on the rules and following them, he said it's not been easy. 

"It's a nightmare to enforce," Browatzke said. "I've told the staff: I don't want you getting in arguments with any crazy anti-maskers." 

Williamson said AHS has resolved 686 of the 1,347 COVID-19 public health order complaints over the week and about half of the complaints in Edmonton. 

@natashariebe

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