In-person schooling will resume on Jan. 11 as planned, but the restrictions on social gatherings and businesses imposed before Christmas will remain in place for at least another two weeks according to Premier Jason Kenney on Jan. 7.
“The decision to resuming in-class learning on January 11 is based on carefully considering the importance of attending school in person, as well as the latest evidence of cases dropping in all school related age groups in December,” said Kenney.
He noted at-home learning puts kids from low income families at a particular disadvantage because of challenges accessing the necessary technology to attend online classes.
“We also know how important the classroom environment is where children can interact with teachers, and with their peers. A long break from that environment can have serious impacts on the mental and emotional health as well as the well being of young people,” said Kenney.
According to Chief Medical Officer of Health for Alberta Dr. Deena Hinshaw, an analysis of all cases of COVID-19 in school age children showed that only 6 per cent of cases were acquired at school.
“This is further supported by the observation in December, that although elementary age children remained in school, in person, their age specific case rates which had previously been rising, dropped in an identical way to older students after extracurricular activities and social gatherings were limited. We are prioritizing school return next week while keeping these other restrictions in place, as these other activities seem to have been a much more important driver of spread,” said Hinshaw.
Restrictions on social gatherings, businesses
Across the province, Albertans are being asked to continue to limit their in-person interactions as much as possible.
“I want to assure you that businesses, organizations, service providers and others will be given at least a week’s notice prior to changes that will affect them so they have time to plan because what they’re asking for is certainty and predictability,” said Kenney.
Close contacts are limited to household members only, or two people if you live alone or are a single parent. Out of town visitors are not permitted to stay in your home, and weddings and funerals are capped at 10 people with no receptions. Churches are limited to 15 per cent of the fire code occupancy limits. Masks continue to be mandatory in all indoor public spaces and workplaces, and if at all possible you should be working from home.
Restaurants remain closed to in-person service but can provide take out, curbside pick up, or delivery, but all entertainment and recreational facilities remain closed as do personal and wellness services.
Regulated health services like doctors, dentists, and optometrists and professional services like lawyers and accountants are allowed to operate by appointment only.
“I know that Albertans are angry because of the terrible judgment that many in government have shown. And they are right to be angry,” said Kenney, referring to the news that a number of senior government officials had traveled abroad over the Christmas holidays. He apologized to Albertans and said he intended to ensure his caucus members and staff comply “not just with the letter but also the spirit of both the public health restrictions and guidelines.”
Numbers decreasing, but still too high
According to the data released by the province in the Jan. 7 update, there were 968 new cases of COVID-19 across the province on Jan. 6. The positivity rate dropped to 6.4 per cent, while hospitalizations came down to 871 with 139 in the ICU. Another 24 people died, bringing the death toll to 1,217.
“It’s also important to underscore that even though we’ve seen the number of active cases drop pretty substantially since measures were introduced back in November, the reality is that we are ahead of most of the Canadian provinces on a per capita basis for total active cases, new cases and most sadly COVID fatalities. So we need to understand we’ve made progress, but we are far from getting out of this,” said Kenney.
Hinshaw said the health care system is still under extreme pressure, and that the province is still averaging well over 1,000 new cases daily. She said the lower numbers we are starting to see are “a testament to the hard work and sacrifice of many.”
Locally, cases across the Lakeland were slightly up with St. Paul seeing the biggest jump of 22 new cases as compared to the eight in Bonnyville, Cold Lake, and Smoky Lake. No new cases have been linked to the outbreaks at the Dr. Margaret Savage Crisis Centre or Sunnyside Manor.