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UPDATED: Alberta declares public health emergency

“It’s changing day by day, hour by hour. But I think it's really important to listen to local leaders. Listen to municipal leaders, reach out to provincial leaders and follow the advice of the experts and the scientists and the researchers,” St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud said.

On Tuesday afternoon, Premier Jason Kenney declared a state of emergency in Alberta because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Government of Alberta has limited gatherings of 50 people or more. Albertans are prohibited from visiting casinos, nightclubs and bars, recreation centres, and fitness facilities. Weddings and funerals must be capped at 50 people.

Grocery stores, shopping centres, health-care facilities, airports, the Alberta Legislature and other essential services are not included. Non-profit community kitchens, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and religious kitchens are exempt but sanitization practices are expected to be in place and support will be in place for this practice.

“People should be careful, they should be responsible, but they should be confident,” Kenney said, adding that this is an effort to help slow the spread of coronavirus.

"This is a serious moment in our history and COVID-19 will test us," Kenney said.

"We will do whatever it takes to slow the spread of this virus."

The premier said the province has suffered many natural disasters in the last few years, which has primed the province's emergency response plan.

“We are as well prepared as any place on earth to deal with this,” Kenney said.

Kenney said with the predicted trajectory of COVID-19, they would eventually need to declare a public health emergency anyway. Doing it earlier will allow for the medical teams in the province to organize their response more efficiently.

“This is a case of us being well-prepared for what is coming at us,” Kenney said.

"We have to take more aggressive measures to contain the virus, more aggressive social distancing measures."

COVID-19 UPDATE: Follow our COVID-19 special section for the latest news on the coronavirus pandemic, as well as resources, FAQs and more.

To limit the amount of time Albertans are spending in large crowds and crowded spaces, all Albertans are prohibited from attending public recreational facilities and private entertainment facilities, including gyms, swimming pools, arenas, science centres, museums, art galleries, community centres, children’s play centres, casinos, racing entertainment centres and bingo halls.

"We apologize to operators of these establishments for the suddenness of this, although I think they've seen it coming," Kenney said.

“The situation is very serious."

Sit-down restaurants, cafés, coffee shops, food courts and other food-serving facilities, including those with a minors-allowed liquor licence, are limited to 50 per cent capacity to a maximum of 50 people.

Take-out, delivery or drive-through service is permitted. Licensed facilities will also be permitted to deliver liquor to help boost their ability to generate income.

COVID-19 UPDATE: Follow our COVID-19 special section for the latest local and national news on the coronavirus pandemic, as well as resources, FAQs and more.

Until further notice, all Albertans are restricted from attending bars and nightclubs where minors are prohibited.

Offices with more than 50 people can stay open as long as they are not congregating in one meeting room.

"We can't shut down the entire economy," Kenney said, adding government workers can still come to work but he is encouraging employees to work from home when possible.

AHS is postponing all scheduled and elective surgeries. Urgent and emergency surgeries, oncology and scheduled C-sections will continue.

AHS will rescheduling as soon as possible but a timeline is not known yet because of the pandemic. Alberta’s chief medical officer Deena Hinshaw said AHS will contact everyone who is scheduled for a surgery and patients are not to call 811 or AHS.

Municipalities, charitable and non-profit organizations providing social services support will immediately see $60 million to support their COVID-19 response.

The money will be going to adult homeless shelters, women’s shelters and the Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) program, which helps to support municipalities and civil society organizations in providing services to vulnerable Albertans.

Kenney added the Emergency Operations Centre is now at level four which is the highest level.

A state of emergency falls under the emergency management act, which will permit a 28-day period of the state of emergency but for health concerns, such as pandemics, it can last for a 90-day period. The state of emergency is limited to health care powers, which will allow the province to coordinate better to protect public health.

The last time the province declared a state of emergency was in 2016 during the Fort McMurray fires and it lasted for 58 days.

Emergency economic measures are expected to be announced soon, possibly as early as tomorrow.

Stop hoarding

Kenney said he has been in contact with the Retail Council of Canada, the presidents of Walmart and Loblaws and they say the food supply is not impacted.

“All of them assure us they have all the supplies to fulfil demand for the future. That supply chains and food security are not compromised. So there is no need in people to engage in hoarding or panic buying,” Kenney said.

The premier said they are recommending people have enough food on hand to cope through a couple of weeks, given the likelihood of people being impacted by the 14-day isolation period.

“There is no logical reason for people to go out and buy weeks and weeks or months of supplies,” Kenney said.

“The provincial operations centre is closely tracking supply chains and their advice to me is there is no reason to be concerned about the integrity of food supply or other essential goods.”

The premier also thanked the growing number of retailers who are offering golden hours for seniors to visit their stores in the early mornings with fully stocked shelves and freshly cleaned stores.

“I would ask all retailers to consider having a dedicated safe and orderly time where seniors and the vulnerable can access what they need.”

Kenney said they are working with charities to step up the delivery of pharmaceuticals, cleaning equipment, food and other necessities.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the past 24 hours had seen 23 new people diagnosed with COVID-19, bringing the provincial total 97 up from 74 on Monday.

There are confirmed cases in every health zone with five people hospitalized and two in ICU. All other confirmed cases are self isolating and expected to make a full recovery.

Follow the leader

St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud is encouraging everyone to listen to their local leaders and health officials and follow expert advice throughout the pandemic.

“It’s changing day by day, hour by hour. But I think it's really important to listen to local leaders. Listen to municipal leaders, reach out to provincial leaders and follow the advice of the experts and the scientists and the researchers,” Renaud said.

“This is not a time for any other rumours or innuendo, it's really important to listen to the professionals and follow their advice.”

The MLA said her office is working remotely and they are still there to help answer questions and work remotely to help people navigate provincial systems like income support and AISH. She also said the City of St. Albert is a great resource during this time, along with the Province of Alberta and Alberta Health Services.

Local mom Erynn Williamson said just hearing the worlds ‘state of emergency’ was enough to trigger the fears she has been repressing.

“(I’ve been) repressing so that my two young boys don’t get scared, repressing so that we can hold onto the hope that it can, and will get better,” the mom said.

Renaud said it’s normal to feel concerned right now.

“You wouldn't be human, right, if you weren't concerned about your friends and your family and your community and the local businesses. We'll get through this and we’ll be okay and we’ll learn a lot through it,” Renaud said.

“It's just one day at a time and just reach out to the people that you know and you love and listen to the experts.”

Jennifer Henderson

About the Author: Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson is the editor of the St. Albert Gazette and has been with Great West Media since 2015
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