Outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people allowed as Alberta eases COVID-19 rules

Alberta is increasing limits on outdoor gatherings to 50 people from 15 as long as proper physical distancing is maintained, Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced Friday.

Province reports 4 more COVID-19 deaths, 58 new cases

Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw provided her latest update on COVID-19 on Friday. Her next update will be Tuesday. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Alberta is increasing limits on outdoor gatherings to 50 people from 15 as long as proper physical distancing is maintained, Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced Friday.

"We've been hearing lots of feedback from Albertans and we've been having conversations about how we can make sure that we're balancing the need to protect Albertans from the spread of the virus, along with the need to make sure Albertans have the supports that they need for health in all aspects of their lives," the province's chief medical officer of health said at a news conference ahead of the long weekend.

"In well-ventilated open spaces, there can be less of a risk in those contexts as long as people are following the guidelines."

Alberta already permits up to 50 people to attend indoor worship gatherings.

"That number of 50 was what we've chosen and it's also the number we had used prior to reducing down to 15," Hinshaw said. 

Indoor gatherings will continue to be restricted to 15 people, she said.

"We want to make sure that it's clear that this is outdoor gatherings where that risk is lower and all public health requirements still do apply with those gatherings of 50."

Vigilance urged

​With Albertans looking ahead to the May long weekend, and ​as ​restaurants and shops open up across​ large swaths of​ the province, Hinshaw is encouraging ​A​lbertans to enjoy themselves but remain vigilant​.​

She said she hopes Albertans can limit the number of new COVID-19 cases as the province initiates the first stage of its relaunch plan, allowing retail stores, restaurants, hair salons, museums, daycares and day camps to open, with some restrictions in Calgary and Brooks.​

"The better that we can collectively hold our infection rate stable and low as we move into this Stage 1, the quicker we can move into Stage 2," she said.

"I think most Albertans are interested in protecting themselves, protecting their loved ones, protecting their neighbours, and that these are the things we can do together to make that happen the most effectively and help us all get into Stage 2 as quickly as possible." 

Stage 2 will allow additional businesses and services to resume operations while physical distancing requirements and other public health guidelines remain in place.

Latest numbers

Alberta reported four more deaths Friday, all at continuing care facilities in Calgary, and 58 new cases of COVID-19 in the province.

​There are now 1,073 active cases in the province, while 5,317 people have recovered and 125 have died.

​On Friday, 62 people were in hospital, nine of them in intensive care.

Here is a regional breakdown of Alberta cases as of Friday:

  • Calgary zone: 870 active, 3,505  recovered.  
  • South zone: 106 active, 1,069  recovered. 
  • Edmonton zone: 61 active, 444 recovered.
  • North zone: 18 active,  195  recovered. 
  • Central zone: 13 active,  85 recovered. 
  • Unknown: 5 active, 19 recovered.

Hinshaw shared early results from asymptomatic testing introduced in Calgary this week.

Testers have identified 50 COVID cases who reported having no symptoms, she said. 

Asymptomatic testing working

Despite some concerns about the testing that she will further address next week, Hinshaw said it seems the asymptomatic testing program in Calgary is helping identify additional cases. 

"It is important to note first of all, that I do not have information on how many of these are asymptomatic, close contacts of confirmed cases and how many have no known exposure," she said.

"Secondly, it is important to know that we do not yet have the full investigation on all these cases. We know from other jurisdictions who have done asymptomatic testing that sometimes, on further reflection, those who initially report no symptoms do identify mild symptoms they may have had earlier." 

It's unlikely the province will expand asymptomatic testing beyond Calgary in the near future, Hinshaw said.

"Testing broadly in the community outside of an area where we have high rates like we do in Calgary is not our highest priority," she said.

"We really want to focus our testing where we get the most clinical value and so the broad-base testing across the province is unlikely to yield a lot of good clinical information."

Cutting back on news conferences

Hinshaw, who has become a fixture in Albertans' daily routines over the past couple of months, said Friday she plans to cut back on the number of news conferences she holds, starting next week.

"The pandemic is far from over," she said. "However, in consideration of the reduced number of cases overall and the fact that we have begun to resume operations under Stage 1 of Alberta's relaunch strategy, I made the recommendation to scale down the frequency of my availabilities.

"I know many have become accustomed to these daily updates. I ensure you I remain committed to transparency and while the number of availabilities may decrease, I will continue to provide the information you rely on."

Hinshaw will hold news conferences every other weekday, starting Tuesday, but would revert back if numbers or policies changed significantly.

Updates on numbers will be provided daily in online reports throughout the long weekend.