Low-intensity fitness activities can resume in Alberta and libraries can reopen as the province dips its toe into the second phase of its reopening plan.
On Monday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, along with Minister of Health Tyler Shandro and Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, announced the province would be easing some restrictions, while delaying other parts of the second phase to a later date.
"Today, I am here to announce that Alberta is ready to safely and cautiously enter Step 2 of our path forward. I want to thank every Albertan who has responsibly observed (the public health) measures through Step 1 over the past several weeks to protect lives and our health-care system in the process," Kenney said.
The premier said it hasn't been easy, but due to the sacrifices Albertans have made, the province is able to move forward to the next step of reopening.
Effective immediately, libraries will be able to open at 15 per cent of their fire-code capacity, excluding staff, and low-intensity individual and group workouts for adults will be able to start up again.
But while the province is prepared to ease restrictions on some parts of the second step, others have been delayed out of precaution. The reopening of banquet and community halls, conference centres has been delayed along with the easing of measures on retail and hotels.
Kenney said while some data shows the province is doing well in slowing the spread of COVID-19, there are other measurements that are concerning.
The number of new cases in the province has plateaued, rather than continuing on a downward trend, and the testing positivity rate has risen. There is also a small increase in the daily number of variant cases, which Kenney said is "worrisome."
"I know that many Albertans want us to relax many more health measures today. But we cannot and we must not allow exponential growth to start to take hold, driven by these new more contagious variants, as we've seen in many countries around the world, because to do so would end up in weeks jeopardizing our healthcare system," Kenney said.
The premier urged Albertans to continue to practice vigilance around indoor social gatherings, as a large per cent of all spread happens in those settings
By the numbers
The premier said hospitalizations have dropped drastically, from around 950 down to 257 on Monday, and cases in long-term care and designated supportive living facilities has also dropped significantly.
"Thankfully, active cases in our long-term care facilities have now declined by more than 95 per cent from December's peak, and the active cases in designated-supportive living facilities for seniors have dropped by over 92 per cent," Kenney said.
Hospitalizations are now below the threshold required to reopen everything under Step 2, but the province will take a cautious approach, Kenney said.
On Monday, there were another 291 cases of COVID-19 identified in the province after 5,900 tests were run for a positivity rate of 4.9 per cent.
There are currently active alerts or outbreaks in 236 schools or 10 per cent of schools in the province.
Since Jan. 11, 890 cases of COVID-19 have been identified in schools.
Another 37 cases of the variant have been identified in the province, bringing the total up to 457.
The R-value – the number of infections caused from a person who has COVID-19 – is sitting at 1.01, with Edmonton at 1.16, Calgary at 1.01 and the rest of the province at 0.94.
There are currently 257 people in the hospital with COVID-19 and 48 in the ICU. The province reported two more deaths on Monday.
There have been 235,000 doses of vaccine given out in Alberta with 88,000 people fully immunized. It has been less than a week since the province opened vaccines up to those living in the community who are over the age of 75 and have seen more than 123,000 people sign up. In the first five days, a first dose has been given out to 35,000 in the group, with another 8,000 given out on Monday.
Hinshaw thanked Albertans for their patience with the online booking system and long lines.
"I want to thank the family and friends who helped to navigate the online booking system," Hinshaw said.
Kenney said Albertans will have to stay vigilant with their COVID-19 public health measures until vaccines can be more widely distributed.
"The game changer is the vaccine."