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St. Albert mayor advocates for regional approach to COVID hotspot restrictions

“Compliance quite often depends on the understanding of the restrictions, and when you have confusion, you have non-compliance. And so it would have been much better for the province to just put the entire Edmonton Metro Region in the hot zone.”
Cathy Heron

St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron isn't surprised to see St. Albert surpass the provincial threshold for hotspot COVID-19 health measures, and told the Gazette Friday she would rather see a regional approach to restrictions than a municipal one.

On Friday afternoon St. Albert fell under new regional health measures after its active COVID-19 cases rose by 16 overnight.

“I think it was predicted yesterday,” Heron said Friday. The city hovered close to the threshold Thursday with 245 active cases, just five shy of the 250 needed to be under enhanced health measures. It had already surpassed a secondary requirement of 350 cases per 100,000 people.

“The staff were all ready, they (were) just waiting, but they were all ready to go,” Heron said.

The province called city manager Kevin Scoble at around 3 p.m. on Friday to announce the city now met the criteria for new restrictions.

“There is never enough notice. And so that's always the complaint is there's so little communication between the province and the municipalities,” Heron said.

New restrictions

The new restrictions will see St. Albert move all junior and senior high school students online. All indoor fitness and sports will be shut down starting Friday and restaurants will be asked to more strictly police patios to ensure only members of the same household are dining together.

The city will have to close indoor fitness and recreation activities at Servus Place, Fountain Park Pool and Jarome Iginla/Kinex Arenas for at least two weeks.

Heron said it's an easy shift to temporary shut down facilities.

“We're ready for that, and it's two weeks so we won't have layoffs. And hopefully, it's a quick little shut down,” Heron said, adding the biggest impact of these new restrictions will be felt in the schools.

On Friday, St. Albert Public Schools posted an update on its website informing families that kids in grades 7 to 12 will be moving online for two weeks. The school board said Monday will be a transition day and online classes will start May 4. 

"We anticipate that students will be back in schools on May 17, however, we will continue to follow direction provided by the provincial government," the update stated. 

"Our schools are well positioned to make this transition as smooth as possible for families. These next two weeks of online learning will look very similar to what families experienced in November. This is not a shift to our online school – your child will continue to learn with their current teachers."

All preschool and kindergarten to Grade 6 students will continue with in-person learning. Buses will not be running for students in grades 7 to 12 for the next two weeks. 

On Friday, the Greater St. Albert Catholic School board tweeted that effective Monday, May 3, grades 7 to 12 in St. Albert will transition to online learning for two weeks. 

"(Monday) will be a transitional day to prepare and online classes will begin (Tuesday). Specific details will be sent to staff and families," the tweet stated. 

Sturgeon Public said in a Facebook post Friday that Grade 7 to 9 students at Sturgeon Heights will transition to online learning from May 3 to 14, with in-person learning scheduled to resume May 17.

Regional approach

St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron said she would rather see the province adopt a more regional approach to the new rules, as residents of the capital region move freely between municipalities and spread the virus beyond their own city. While the targeted approach to restrictions is welcome across the province, urban centres like the Edmonton region should be treated as one zone, she said.

“When you have a hodgepodge and disjointed approach within a region, it's very confusing for residents,” Heron said, adding many residents work in one city and live in another.

“Compliance quite often depends on the understanding of the restrictions, and when you have confusion, you have non-compliance. And so it would have been much better for the province to just put the entire Edmonton Metro Region in the hot zone.”

The mayor said having relaxed restrictions in the rest of the region while Edmonton, St. Albert and Strathcona County are under advanced health restrictions will encourage regional travel.  

“For residents from one municipality who can't go to an indoor gym, (they) will just to seek out an indoor gym that's open in another municipality. And then so you're actually encouraging cross-boundary travel,” Heron said.

Wake-up call

The mayor said moving into advanced restrictions should be a wake-up call for residents, and she wants residents to realize that provincially the third wave is bigger than the second wave.

“People really need to not think they're invincible. They need to not just listen but follow the rules. Care for your neighbours,” Heron said.

St. Albert has a beautiful trail system that residents can take advantage of while staying safe outside, Heron noted, adding residents can order takeout and enjoy a green space.  

“Just buckle down for another short time and we should be out of this. And get your vaccination,” Heron said.

On Thursday, the province announced new regional restrictions for communities that have more than 350 active cases per 100,000 people as well as more than 250 active cases in total.

At the time, these communities included Edmonton, Calgary, Airdrie, Grande Prairie, Red Deer, Lethbridge, Fort McMurray and Strathcona County. By Friday, St. Albert added enough active cases to join the list.

St. Albert had 245 active cases on Thursday. That increased to 261 on Friday. The city has 375 active cases per 100,000 people.

All youth and adult indoor sport, performance and recreation activities are prohibited. This applies to all youth activities, including for students still learning in classrooms.

All indoor recreation facilities must close. Outdoor recreation amenities can be open to public access unless specifically closed by public health order.

Once in place, these targeted restrictions will remain for at least two weeks. The enhanced measures will be lifted after 14 days if St. Albert falls back below the threshold. 

In extreme cases, a curfew will be implemented when communities hit a threshold of more than 1,000 cases per 100,000 people and if a municipality requests it.

“The restrictions currently in place will not bend the curve fast enough to get this third wave under control before the summer,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said on Thursday

City facilities

The city posted to its website Friday afternoon that all Arden Theatre programming will continue to be offered virtually. The theatre is closed until further notice, and the box office will be reaching out to ticket-holders about dates, refunds or credit options.

All city performing arts classes will be virtual only until further notice.

All indoor fitness and recreation activities at Servus Place, Fountain Park Pool and Jarome Iginla/Kinex Arenas are cancelled for at least two weeks.

The city posted to its website Friday afternoon that all Arden Theatre programming will continue to be offered virtually. The theatre is closed until further notice, and the box office will be reaching out to ticket-holders about dates, refunds or credit options.

All city performing arts classes will be virtual only until further notice.

COVID-19 daily numbers

In the past 24 hours, another 23 cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in St. Albert while another seven people recovered.

Sturgeon County has 108 active COVID-19 cases, up from 104 on Thursday. Morinville has 35 active cases, down from 38 on Thursday. 

Across Alberta, another 2,007 new cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed Friday, bringing active cases to 21,828. The province ran 18,955 tests overnight for a positivity rate of 10.6 per cent. Another 989 variant cases have been identified and variants now make up 61.6 per cent of all active cases. 

There are currently 649 Albertans in the hospital with 152 in intensive care. Seven more deaths were reported to Alberta Health overnight. 

So far, 1,562,713 vaccine doses have been given out as of April 29.


Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

About the Author: Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for Great West Newspapers based in St. Albert, Alta.
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