Mixed reaction as Alberta prepares to ease COVID-19 restrictions on Monday
As certain sectors of Alberta’s economy prepare to reopen Monday, some medical professionals say the timing is not right to be easing restrictions.
Restaurants may resume indoor dining on Feb. 8 so long as tables are sat with members of one household.
“They’ll come in with their families or their cohorts and we’re hoping those numbers can stay down so we can stay open,” said Holly Parks, food and beverage director for Hotel Arts Group.
The poolside dining area will open for breakfast lunch and dinner, while Yellow Door will reopen on Thursday.
Parks says rehiring staff has been a pleasure, yet there are some concerns about potential restrictions returning if spread COVID-19 ramps up again.
“Closure means we don’t have a team anymore, and though would be hard, that would be the worst thing if we have to close again,” she said.
Meanwhile group fitness is only permitted to re-open one on one training.
Many boutique companies have banded together with a campaign using the hashtag #SaveFitnessAB, with members directly calling on the provincial government to make changes.
“You’re missing the mark, you’re cherry picking what sounds good to the public versus what is good for all,” said Adriana Britton, co-founder of Barre West.
According to the campaign website, half of the member gyms and fitness facilities will not survive until April without financial support, leaving more than 2,500 employees without work.
Britton is calling for clear timelines for reopening, and says financial help should be tangible, not loans.
“Nothing breaks my heart more than to see business after business within my industry and others shut their doors because they just can’t make it without support. We need more support.”
Yet it may be too much too soon for Alberta’s pandemic response according to one critical care specialist in the intensive care unit at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital.
“What we really need to do is delay the opening of a lot of what we’re doing until we can get a stable vaccine supply and get the people who are most likely to suffer the severe and permanent consequences, vaccinated,” said Dr. Darren Markland.
“If we can just keep things under control without having to enhance measures until we can get more of our population vaccinated we stand a good chance of stabbing this thing down and getting back to a more reasonable life.”
Markland is concerned about eventual pressure on the medical system, and a potential “third wave.”
“The people on the frontlines are already fatiguing, and to see this happen a third time I think will break many of them.”
Infectious disease experts say the presence of new variant strains are also concerning.
As of Friday, Alberta recorded 71 cases of the U.K. variant (B.1.1.7) and seven cases of the South African variant (B.1.351).
“It’s like a whole bunch of little fires burning in a very dry field, it becomes a problem really quickly,” Dr. Lynora Saxinger, infectious disease specialist.
“The fact that we have variant strains around is a big concern... (and) consequently a much higher risk for contacts. Everyone has to do everything extremely correctly for this to continue to work.”
She says physical distancing, mask-wearing, hand-hygiene and limiting in person contacts continue to be imperative to decrease the spread of COVID-19 and the variants.
Step 1 of the province's 4-step plan was triggered based on COVID-19 hospitalizations dipping below 600.
Step 2 will take effect when hospitalizations dip below 450 — then restrictions will be further eased on retail, banquet halls, community halls, conference halls along with further easing of indoor fitness measures.