Physical distancing in Alberta: a tale of 2 cities

Residents in both of Alberta's major cities appear to be getting the message about physical distancing. Medical experts and officials at all levels are calling for people to stay about two metres apart to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

Calgary adapted to allow more space for physical distancing, Edmonton considering similar steps

A couple strolls down a portion of Calgary's Memorial Drive, a popular spot for walkers and joggers along the Bow River, which was closed to traffic to give people space to physically distance themselves. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Whether it was the chilly start to the day, stricter rules from the province, or the constant messaging from health officials, people are responding to the calls to practise physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Medical experts and officials at all levels are calling for people to stay about two metres apart to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

Last weekend, high foot traffic locations like dog parks and walking paths in both of Alberta's major cities were flooded with people looking to get out of the house for some exercise or fresh air. But this weekend, city streets looked much different.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson took to Twitter on Saturday to praise the actions of Calgary's city council, which announced on Friday plans to limit vehicle access on some roadways in order to make more space for people to walk, run, or cycle. 

Calgary's roads department, in coordination with the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, worked to identify roads where lanes could be reduced to give Calgarians more space to be outside while maintaining physical distance.

Sections of Elbow Drive and Crowchild Trail were part of the measure, among other popular walking spots in Calgary. 

The City of Calgary's roads department, in coordination with the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, has experimented with reducing lanes on some roads to try to give people not travelling in vehicles more space to be outside, while maintaining the two-metre physical distancing recommended during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, signs block off a lane on 12th Street S.E. in Inglewood on March 28, 2020. (Christine Boyd/CBC)

But one Calgary city councillor previously told CBC this doesn't mean these spots should be considered walking destinations. 

"We're making sure that we're not sending mixed messages and declaring another Bow River Flow Festival," Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said.

"Because that's exactly what we're trying to avoid."

Doctor's orders

The need for people to physically distance in order to help flatten the curve has become a regular talking point of the daily updates from Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw. 

At the same time, Hinshaw has urged people to stay active if they are feeling well and encouraged people to get outside in appropriately-distanced ways. 

Signs indicate Edmontonians have also heard that message. The staircase near the Glenora Club on River Valley Road, which is commonly used by walkers, runners and people who "run the stairs," was nearly deserted late Saturday morning.

Just two people could be seen using the stairs by the Glenora Club Saturday morning, a spot that had been overrun with foot traffic the previous weekend. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

Many sidewalks in the downtown core and Whyte Avenue areas were sparsely populated.

Edmonton's Whyte Avenue, a popular spot for shopping and strolling on weekends, was practically deserted around the lunch-hour Saturday. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

One of Saturday's busier areas was the Old Strathcona Farmers Market, where strict physical distancing rules were being observed.

CEO of the Old Strathcona Farmers Market, Donna Lohstraeter, said vendors and customers are adapting to newly adopted physical distancing measures. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

Donna Lohstraeter, the market's CEO, said everyone has been cooperative and willingly followed the rules. She is also happy to help some people maintain a small piece of their routine.

"That vendor who has always brought them their eggs or their carrots to market is still here to do that," Lohstraeter said. 

"I think it's really important that we've been able to maintain that for people."

Customers practise physical distancing while buying groceries at the Old Strathcona Farmer's Market. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

Previously, 135 vendors would have packed into the market but now that has been limited to about 60. Lohstraeter said some vendors voluntarily pulled out due to their own limitations. 

The market also eliminated artisans and any other non-food vendors as well for the time being. 

This week the Alberta government announced further measures that put even tighter restrictions on gatherings, lowering the limit from 50 to 15 people. 

It also closed all provincial parks and recreation areas to vehicle traffic in an effort to limit the number of people accessing them. All non-essential businesses, including clothing retailers and hair salons, were ordered to close. 

As of Saturday there were 79 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Alberta, bringing the provincial total to 621.