BOW VALLEY – A slight easement for Alberta COVID-19 public health measures was announced by the provincial government.
The easement of restrictions will take effect Monday (Jan. 18). Outdoor social gatherings of groups of 10 individuals or less will be permitted, personal and wellness services will reopen by appointment only, and up to 20 people will be able to attend a funeral service.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the measures were eased based on expertise and advice from Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw. He added the province is making targeted decisions aimed to minimize the disruption felt by businesses.
“We are actively looking at what restrictions we can ease in the weeks ahead,” Shandro said on Thursday (Jan. 14). “We need everyone's cooperation to stay within the rules. Don’t bend the rules to fit you, they’re not designed to be flexible.”
If COVID-19 rates continue to slow and fall in Alberta, the province will continue to reopen, Shandro said. He added the current COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations continue to pose a high threat to the health-care system.
In the MD of Bighorn, there were 105 active cases reported as of Thursday compared to 14 at the end of November. In Banff and Lake Louise, the number of cases dropped to 11 from a high of 192 at the end of November.
There were 14 cases still active in Canmore. The number of cases for the Stoney Nakoda First Nation was at 153, an increase of 14 from the day before. The nation declared a state of local emergency on Monday (Jan. 11) due to rising case numbers.
In Cochrane, an additional case of COVID-19 was recorded on Thursday, bringing the number of active cases to 49. To date 297 cases have been identified in town – 237 people have recovered and one person has died.
In Alberta, 927 new cases were identified in the last 24-hours using 16,000 new tests.
The current provincial positivity rate sits at 5.8 per cent.
There are 806 people hospitalized due to the virus, including 136 people in intensive care.
Hinshaw reported 21 new COVID-related deaths in the last 24-hours. To date, 1,389 Albertans have died.
More than 8,500 people received COVID-19 vaccines Wednesday bringing the provincial total to almost 67,000 in Alberta.
The current ease of measures was made in the hope Albertans can have interactions to support mental health and isolation, said Hinshaw.
She added available data and findings from around the world were used to guide what measures would be eased in the province. She noted significant spread in personal wellness settings has not been seen, and these businesses were included in December’s health measure to limit in-person interactions.
Businesses allowed to reopen on Monday will be required to follow all current public health measures.
For Albertans to see a further easement of the current health restrictions, the province will need to see continued reductions in hospitalizations and ICU numbers, reduction in new COVID-19 cases and a lower positivity rate, she said.
Additional easements will be a step-by-step process, Hinshaw said, and the current measures are a test case to provide freedom in a safe way.
“I want to stress the situation remains serious,” Hinshaw said. “Our numbers remain high and our health system is still under significant strain.”