By Kenyon Stronski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
After last week’s Sept. 9 provincial announcement to increase the funding for at-home care facilities, new temporary health measures have now been introduced on Sept. 15.
These health measures will be used to help slow the spread of COVID-19 province-wide and includes new restrictions on restaurants, indoor gatherings, weddings, funerals, retail, entertainment venues, and indoor sport and fitness — that began on Sept. 20. However, measures in workplaces, indoor private gatherings, places of worship, school and children’s activities include mandatory masking and physical distancing in all indoor public spaces, which began on Sept. 16. Starting Sept. 20, businesses or event organizers who wish to implement a program to check patrons for government-issued proof of vaccination or a recent negative privately purchased COVID-19 test will be able to have an exemption to restrictions. If a business chooses not to require proof of vaccination, however, they will be required to adhere to the new health measures.
“We are taking necessary and critical steps to prevent our health system from being overwhelmed and once again slow the spread of COVID-19 in Alberta. These steps are not easy for anyone, but with COVID-19 hospitalizations continuing to rise, particularly amongst the unvaccinated, we have no choice but to implement the proof of vaccination measures and temporary restrictions. We have overcome past COVID-19 waves and we will once again. I strongly urge anyone who has not yet been vaccinated to do so immediately. Please protect yourself, your loved ones and your community,” said Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.
Tyler Shandro, Alberta’s minister of health, also added the new proof of vaccination requirements will make Albertans safer. He also believes it will help increase vaccination rates all across the province and protect Albertans in settings that may pose a higher risk of transmission.
“We’ve seen from other jurisdictions that proof of vaccinations do help encourage people to get vaccinated, and I am calling on every eligible Albertan to get fully immunized as soon as possible.”
Dr Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health for Alberta, also mentioned she knows Albertans are tired, and she recognizes Albertans have done everything they can to keep everyone safe.
“I’m asking you to please continue to do the right thing to help protect our health care system and our communities. Please continue to make safe choices, get vaccinated if you haven’t already, wash hands and stay home when ill. Together, we will protect our health system and each other.”
Effective Sept. 16, mandatory work-from-home measures are in place for workplaces unless the employer has determined a physical presence is required for operational effectiveness.
Indoor private gatherings for people who are fully vaccinated are limited to a single household plus one other household to a maximum of 10 people, with no restrictions placed on children under the age of 12.
Attendance at any indoor private social gathering is not permitted for vaccine-eligible individuals who have not been vaccinated. Outdoor private social gatherings are permitted to a maximum of 200 people with two-metre physical distancing maintained at all times. Within places of worship, attendance is now limited to one-third of their fire code capacity and face masks are now mandatory with two-metre physical distancing between households.
In Kindergarten to Grade 12 schools, mandatory masking is required for students in Grade 4 and up, plus staff and teachers in all grades. Schools that can implement an alternate COVID safety plan can be exempted from mandatory masking. Elementary schools are now to implement class cohorting. For youth aged 18 and under, they are not required to mask or maintain a two-metre distance when engaged in physical activity such as a team sport.
Spectator attendance is limited to one-third fire code capacity and attendees must be masked and ensure physical distancing between different households. Currently, there are no restrictions on outdoor activities. Starting Sept. 20, restaurants, places hosting weddings and funerals, retail, entertainment and recreation facilities, and in some cases sport, fitness and recreation facilities are eligible for the Restrictions Exemption Program. This program will require all vaccine-eligible individuals to provide government-issued proof of immunization or a privately paid and negative COVID-19 test from within the previous 72 hours.
To enter spaces that are participating in the program, people aged 12 and older will be required to show their proof of vaccination or a negative recent test result. Businesses that implement this program will operate as usual, provided they are only serving people that have proof of immunization, as per the requirements.