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March 18 UPDATE: Western Canada and COVID-19

This will not be over in a matter of weeks – the reality is a matter of months – Alberta Premier Jason Kenney

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There are currently 383 lab-confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 from B.C. to Manitoba.

Alberta

Alberta has seen 22 new cases in the past 24 hours, bringing its total to 119. Three cases in Calgary, two cases in Edmonton, and one case in northern Alberta, are not able to be traced to travel and are strong indicators of community spread.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw asks that any person who attended the Pacific Dental conference in B.C. from March 5-7, please self-isolate immediately as a number of people in attendance have tested positive for the virus.

Hinshaw said that hospitals were also being asked to ensure Alberta has the resources necessary to accommodate increased admittance to hospitals.

Additional measures for hospital visitation are being implemented immediately. Children are restricted from visiting at this time. Children rarely show symptoms, Hinshaw said, but are likely carriers.

Only one visitor, who must be healthy, may visit a patient at any time.

“We have had to make a decision between livelihoods and lives,” Hinshaw said.

“As a result of the measures we have needed to put in place to slow the spread of this virus. While they are necessary and required to contain COVID-19, they are not easy. We are all needed in this response and the actions we take will make a difference.”

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said that he expects Alberta will also see fatalities.

Scientists are projecting that Alberta infections of COVID-19 will peak in four or five weeks, Kenney said. The province can expect the social distancing measures to be in place, likely for two to three months. He added that a vaccine will not be available until 2021 and that COVID will continue to be a risk to the global population, including Canada, until a vaccine is available.

A report from Imperial College in London, U.K., released March 17, suggested the earliest a vaccine will be available is at least 18 months away.

“Albertans need to wrap their heads around this – it’s not going to be over in a couple of weeks,” Kenney said.

The province has introduced policies to allow for mortgage and loan relief, utility deferrals, and emergency funds for those who do not have access to sick leave.

Additional information for Alberta residents can be found here.

British Columbia

The province has an additional 45 new cases and another death since yesterday’s update. The province currently has 231 cases and has seen 7 deaths.

News was also released today that the virus has shown up in a third care centre in the province.

The B.C. government has declared a provincial state of emergency, in addition to the public health emergency declared Tuesday. The declaration, according to Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, will allow the province to ensure supply chain management and that the province has enough resources.

Farnworth said the supplies for the province were currently in “good shape”.

Additional information for B.C. residents can be found here.

Manitoba

The province has identified two additional presumptive cases, bringing its total of lab-confirmed and presumptive cases to 17.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s Chief Public Health Officer, asked that social distancing measures be enacted privately as much as they are being implemented publicly but said the measures should not mean social isolation.

“Social distancing is very important but we do not want to isolate our vulnerable populations – reach out,” Roussin said.

Roussin also reiterated that people without symptoms do not need to be tested. The province does not have the ability to test everyone and needs to keep tests available for those showing symptoms, he stated.

“Our healthcare system has been standing at its highest level of preparedness since the beginning of February,” Roussin said.

Between additional testing, health investigations, and preventative measures, the province is prepared for what is happening.

“We’ve implemented many social distancing strategies right now and they’re going to have a large impact on reducing this virus’s impact in Manitoba if we all play our role.”

Additional information for Manitoba residents can be found here.

Saskatchewan

The province declared a state of emergency today as the number of presumptive positive tests doubled in the last 24 hours. This brings the number of cases in the province to 16. One of those cases has so far not demonstrated a link to travel which can be an indication of community spread.

Saskatchewan’s government has ordered casinos, bingo halls, gyms and fitness centres to close and announced a prohibition on public gatherings of more than 50 people.

Restaurants, bars and events may remain open at this time providing they limit capacity to a maximum of 50 people or 50 per cent of capacity, whichever is less. Retail and grocery outlets are currently exempt from the regulation but the government asks that people maintain appropriate social distancing while using them.

The province, which still uses Crown-owned utilities, will be implementing deferral programs with zero per cent interest for up to six months.

Employers are asked to allow employees to work from home if possible and said Government of Saskatchewan ministries, agencies and Crown corporations will begin to phase in work-from-home policy for non-essential roles.

Additional information for Saskatchewan residents can be found here.

There are 705 lab-confirmed and presumptive cases across Canada.

Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean is a Senior Reporter with Western Standard
dmaclean@westernstandardonline.com
Twitter @Mitchell_AB

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Vaccine passports now mandatory in Alberta

In place of a vaccine passport, a negative test result from a privately-paid rapid test within 72 hours of service will be adequate or a person will need to show a valid medical exemption.

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The Alberta government’s new vaccine mandates for businesses, entities and events are in effect.

Each organization must follow one of two options: implement the Restriction Exemption Program (REP) requiring proof of vaccination or negative test result, plus mandatory masking, to continue operating as usual, or comply with all public health restrictions as outlined in Order 42-2021.

In place of a vaccine passport, a negative test result from a privately-paid rapid test within 72 hours of service will be adequate or a person will need to show a valid medical exemption.

The REP allows operators to avoid the majority of public health restrictions with the implementation of a proof of vaccination program, although vaccine requirements for staff are at the employer’s discretion. Face mask mandates are still required in all indoor spaces.

The program doesn’t apply to those under 12 years of age and businesses that need to be accessed by the public for daily living purposes, including all retail locations. As well, employees, contractors, repair or delivery workers, volunteers or inspectors will be permitted access to spaces without requiring a vaccine passport.

To enter spaces participating in the REP, adults need to provide valid photo identification that matches their paper or digital vaccine record showing name, vaccine type and date of administration. From now until October 25, proof of partial vaccination (one dose) will suffice, however after that date, proof of full vaccination (two doses) will be required. Those under 12 will only need to show vaccination paperwork.

Indoor entertainment, event and recreation facilities that don’t implement the REP will be limited to one-third capacity of their fire code occupancy and attendees must be in household cohorts or with up to two close contacts if they live alone.

Outdoor events and facilities have no capacity restrictions, but attendees must maintain a two-metre distancing between households.  

Restaurants that don’t follow the REP cannot offer indoor dining, and outdoor dining will be limited to six people per table from one household, and liquor sales will have to end by 10 p.m. with consumption cut off by 11 p.m.

Retail, shopping malls and food courts aren’t eligible for the REP, therefore will be reduced to one-third capacity of fire code occupancy and are required to stop all in-person dining, switching to take out only.

Indoor private social gatherings will be permitted for those that are vaccinated to a maximum of two households up to 10 (vaccine eligible) vaccinated people. There are no restrictions for children under 12. For those who are unvaccinated, indoor social gatherings are not permitted.

Private outdoor social gatherings are limited to a maximum of 200 people who are socially distanced.  

Churches will be limited to one-third of fire code capacity and masks and social distancing are still mandatory in places of worship.

Employees are mandated to work from home unless their physical presence is required for their duties.

Proof of vaccination will not be required to enter a polling place for Monday’s federal election although physical distancing, masking and other transmission reducing measures will be in place.

For more information on the Restriction Exemption Program, click here.   

Risdon is a reporter at the Western Standard
mrisdon@westernstandardonline.com

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Hockey arena backs down on banning unvaccinated kids

Within hours of the Western Standard posting the exclusive story, Oaten was contacted by the SLSFSC and advised of an update to their policy.

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Public pressure has brought minor hockey out of the penalty box in Cochrane.

Following an exclusive story by the Western Standard on Saturday, along with mounting pressure from the community, a Cochrane sports facility has revamped its vaccine passport policy.  

The Cochrane Minor Hockey Association (CMHA) and Hockey Alberta were not mandating a vaccine passport system, but Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre (SLSFSC) announced it would be requiring proof of vaccine status for anyone 12 and up.

Within hours of the story being posted, CMHS President Cory Oaten was contacted by the SLSFSC and advised of an update to their policy with this statement: “Youth between the ages of 12 (vaccine eligible) to 18 years of age are exempt from the REP vaccination requirement to enter the facility for the purpose of participating in a youth organized sport organization. Examples include (but not limited to) Cochrane Minor Hockey, Ringette, Cochrane Minor Soccer, Lacrosse, Cochrane Figure Skating Club, Comets, Junior Lifeguard Club, etc.”

Although youth may access the facility without being vaccinated, all adult spectators, coaches, volunteers and organizers of any youth activity “must show proof of vaccination, proof of a negative test, or medical exemption to gain entry to SLSFSC premises.”

“Although this helps our kids get on the ice in Cochrane, it’s still an issue at lots of other facilities, especially in larger facilities in Calgary and Airdrie,” Oaten said.

Oaten, who works in the insurance industry, points out the “huge liability issue” this poses to his and other sports organizations.

“Originally, Spray Lakes pushed us to collect this medical documentation from our members,” he said.

The CMHA board consists of 18 volunteer members.

“They can’t put those expectations on a board of volunteers. It’s a big legal issue for us,” Oaten said, adding he and his board refuse to take responsibility for requiring proof of vaccine or the collection of their members’ private medical information.

Oaten was informed the SLSFSC will now have its own security checkpoints set up in the facility and will take responsibility for checking the vaccine status of anyone 18-plus entering the building.

Oaten anticipates families will still pull their kids from hockey and other sports programs as those who remain unvaccinated will not be permitted in the facility to accompany their child.

Hockey Alberta stated on their Facebook page they are working with the Alberta government on how last Wednesday’s announcement will affect hockey for Alberta players. Oaten has asked his members to hold off on making a decision to pull their child from the program until Hockey Alberta comes forward with their updated season plan.

The Western Standard reached out to the SLSFSC for comment but did not hear back in time for publication.

Risdon is a reporter for the Western Standard
mrisdon@westernstandardonline.com

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