Alberta is in the midst of a “triple-whammy” according to Premier Jason Kenney. We crave a way forward that returns us to a healthy, economically sound, and employed place to thrive. Make no mistake, the economic and industry-focus crises are of equal impact to Albertans as the public health crisis; but even as we emerge from the virus haze, there is still a mountain to climb.

Each daily update from our Chief Medical Officer of Health includes the number of positive COVID-19 cases that continue to climb. As evidenced by the updated modelling presented earlier this week, Kenney points to the successful slowing of the spread of COVID-19 as well as the strong capacity in Alberta’s health system; raising the question of when and how Alberta will relaunch. The answer came today.

Relaunching Alberta

Following the lead of those to the east, Albertans will see a staged approach to reopening. Today’s update began with the plan slide titled “Opening Soon” over a photo of an Alberta prairie sunrise. Critical imagery as the province sets to reopen. Dubbed the relaunch strategy, Alberta will open in the following stages:

Early Activity

  • Effective immediately – some AHS scheduled surgeries will resume.
  • Effective May 1, 2020 – vehicle staging areas and parking lots at public parks will open, as well as boat launches in some provincial parks.
  • Effective May 4, 2020 – dental and other health-care service (physiotherapists, speech language pathologists, respiratory therapists, audiologists, social workers, occupational therapists, dietitians, et al.) may resume as long as they are following approved guidelines set by their professional colleges.
  • Additionally, golf courses can open on May 4, with restrictions including keeping clubhouses and pro shops closed – they will open in stage one.

Stage One – as early as May 14, 2020

With increased infection prevention and controls, some businesses and facilities will be allowed to resume operations, ensuring two metre physical distancing requirements and other public health guidance in place. This includes:

  • Post-secondary institutions;
  • Retail businesses such as clothing, furniture and bookstores;
  • Some personal services, such as hairstyling and barber shops;
  • Museums and art galleries;
  • Physiotherapy, chiropractic, optometry and similar services;
  • Daycares, with limits on occupancy;
  • Summer camps with limits on occupancy. This could include summer school;
  • Dine-in restaurants, cafés, lounges and bars at 50 per cent capacity; and
  • Some additional outdoor recreation.

Stage One will also include rules and guidance for public interactions which will incorporate the use of face coverings in crowded spaces, especially on mass transit, limitations on visitors to patients at health-care facilities, and remote working where possible. Public attendance at businesses, facilities and events that have close physical contact will not be permitted, and non-essential travel is not recommended.

The Premier indicated the province has ordered vast quantities of masks and will soon make them available to Albertans.

Stage 2 – Time dependent on health indicators

Timing of this stage will be determined by the success of Stage 1, considering the capacity of the healthcare system and continued limiting and/or reduction of the rate of infections, hospitalization, and ICU cases.

Following the same prevention and control measures as Stage 1, additional businesses and services to reopen and resume operations, include:

  • Potential Kindergarten to Grade 12 schools, with restrictions;
  • More scheduled surgeries, including backlog elimination;
  • Personal services such as artificial tanning, esthetics, cosmetic skin and body treatments, manicures, pedicures, waxing, facial treatments, massage and reflexology;
  • Restaurants, cafés, lounges and bars continuing to operate at reduced capacity;
  • Permitting of some larger gatherings (number of people to be determined as we learn more about the levels of risk for different activities) in some situations; and
  • Movie theatres and theatres opening with restrictions.

Stage 2 will require nightclubs, gyms, pools, recreation centres and arenas to remain closed. Additionally, arts and culture festivals, concerts and major sporting events will continue to not be permitted.

Stage 3 – Time dependent on health indicators

Timing of this stage is to be determined and will involve:

  • Fully reopening all businesses and services, with limited restrictions.
  • Permitting larger gatherings (number of people to be determined).

Stage 3 will see a broader opening of arts and culture festivals, concerts and major sporting events, as well as nightclubs, gyms, pools, recreation centres and with enhanced protection controls in place. Physical distancing restrictions will be maintained. Travel will reopen in Stage 3, and work conference gatherings have the opportunity to resume with restrictions.

Kenney emphasized that health experts played the key role in informing the plan and that tracking of hospital bed vacancies, ICU capacity, and the weight of the virus on the system was – and is – central to moving forward. Without the MD title, it will be on all other Albertans to trust that gradual, prudent steps are being taken to manage the risk that COVID-19 presents and follow the restrictions in place so the province doesn’t backslide.

Going Forward

Public health officials are cautious as relaxing restrictions too early could possibly result in a second wave of the disease. The government faced intense pressure to relaunch the economy. With Albertans hanging on by a thread, provincial officials have the thankless task of rolling out the stages for the relaunch, even though recent numbers indicate Alberta is still squarely in the event; there is a confidence in the balance of economic reopening and health care system capacity.

Health officials will monitor the scenario, and the plan will develop and adapt over time. Experience and data from other jurisdictions will inform progress and allow for appropriate adjustments. Kenney alluded to what’s been on all of our minds, we are one outbreak away from all of this changing. The Calgary region and south have heavily tipped the balance on confirmed cases. Kenney says if outbreaks occur, a “local approach” may mean restrictions on narrow geographic hot spots.

Like our neighbours to the east, Albertans want to bring some normal back to our lives. However, you’d be hard pressed to find an Albertan who wants to do this isolation thing all over again, which lends to an understanding that being early off the blocks will mean more than just a time penalty. Do it once, do it right, appears to be the mantra.