Edmonton

Excitement, trepidation as Alberta prepares to reopen

While many Albertans excitedly await a return to normalcy with the provincial “open for summer” plan, medical experts worry it may be too much, too soon.

Medical experts worry at speed of provincial plan

Ahmad Majed plays soccer with his 6-year-old son, Kareem. The founder of Soccer Elite Academy is excited to see kids return to in-person training as part of Alberta's reopening. (Allison Dempster/CBC)

While many Albertans excitedly await a return to normalcy with the provincial "open for summer" plan, some medical experts worry it may be too much, too soon.

The province unveiled its reopening plan on Wednesday, a three-stage approach that could see Alberta fully open again by the beginning of July or earlier.

Starting June 1, the first stage would kick in to allow personal and wellness services appointments, among other measures.

For Justine Martinson, founder of Lipstick Empire LaserSpa in Edmonton, reopening is welcome news after a cumulative six months of pandemic closure.

"It's been a roller-coaster," she said Wednesday before the full plan was unveiled. Her spa employs 12 contractors who want to get back to work while hundreds of clients have signed a wait list, she said.

But Martinson is cautious in her optimism. 

"We're so excited to see everyone and reopen but there's also that slight chance we'll be shut down again."

Outdoor sports and recreation are also slated to start again with a limit of 10 people. By Stage 2, expected mid-June, youth and adult sports may resume with no restrictions, both indoors and outdoors.

"I can't express how excited I am, not just for me but for all the players," said Ahmad Majed, the founder of Soccer Elite Academy. The youth sports group organizes training in Calgary and the Edmonton area.

While virtual sessions have helped keep some young athletes engaged, Majed said the pandemic has put a dent in career development for many aspiring players. The social aspect has also been sorely missed.

"We play the game to be together," Majed said.

Doctors concerned by speed

Premier Jason Kenney said during the announcement that he was optimistic Stage 3 — full reopening — would be achieved by early July, allowing events like K-Days and the Calgary Stampede to go forward. 

Dr. Shazma Mithani, an emergency room physician in Edmonton, said while summer festivals are important to her and other Albertans, there's a risk of them becoming superspreader events.

"It's frustrating to hear that that's what the focus has become with this summer reopening plan," Mithani said.

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Mithani believes Alberta's plan is much too rapid and lacks some key benchmarks. She pointed to Ontario's reopening plan released last week as a more measured approach. 

It includes two-dose vaccination rates for its latter two steps while Alberta is focused on only the first. 

Also missing from the conversation were variants of concern, Mithani said.

"Unfortunately, here we are again and the province is reopening too aggressively and putting us at a risk of yet another wave of COVID-19."

Uneven vaccination rates could also lead to more localized waves, according to Dr. Alain Tremblay, a respirologist at the Foothills Medical Centre and professor of medicine at the University of Calgary.

"It will be in specific populations perhaps that are more under-vaccinated, which, unfortunately, in many cases are the population that have been more at risk of the disease to date," he said.

Northern Alberta currently lags behind much of the province for first-dose vaccination rates, with the High Level area only reaching 11.5 per cent of its population as of Wednesday.

Tremblay was also concerned by the focus on first doses, which he thinks could possibly encourage Albertans to skip their second.

"In the long term that's going to add risk to a prolongation of the pandemic in Alberta," he said.

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