Delay of some Step 2 reopenings welcomed by emergency room physician

An Edmonton emergency room physician says she is happy the Alberta government isn’t moving ahead with its full Step 2 reopening plan even though the number of hospitalizations is well below the province’s required benchmark.

Alberta is allowing libraries to open with 15 per cent capacity limits. Indoor fitness is limited mostly to adult-only low-intensity activities like rock climbing, pilates, and some types of yoga. 

However, the province is delaying Step 2 openings of conference centres, hotels, banquet and community halls, and holding off on easing the current 15 per cent capacity limits on retail stores. 

“It’s clear that they are taking this seriously, which they should be,” Dr. Shazma Mithani said in an interview Monday shortly after Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minster Tyler Shandro announced the easing of restrictions. 

“I think the assumption in general was that they were just going to push through. I’m happy to see that that’s not what’s happening, that they really are looking at the leading indicators and adjusting accordingly.”

Those indicators include the R-value, the positivity rate and number of new cases. Mithani said the presence of the more highly contagious variant strains of coronavirus in Alberta is a high concern. 

On Friday, Mithani and other physicians in the Edmonton zone of Alberta Health Services sent a letter urging the government not to move ahead with Step 2. The group said the province’s health-care system could not tolerate another surge of COVID-19 cases and asked the government to hold off until all high-risk Albertans were fully vaccinated. 

The staged reopening plan, announced on Feb. 8, set the number of hospitalizations as the key indicator for lifting restrictions. Stage 2 required Alberta to have fewer than 450 people in hospital — the number was 257 on Monday. 

Each stage needs to be at least three weeks apart, meaning there won’t be a decision on Step 3 until March 22.  But Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Alberta could allow the delayed Step 2 measures to go ahead at any time before then. 

Gyms disappointed

The current number of hospitalizations led many gyms to believe they would be allowed to open on Monday. 

Michelle Hynes-Dawson, vice-president of Community and Digital Engagement with YMCA of Northern Alberta, said her organization was disappointed by the province’s announcement. 

She said the YMCA will take a few days to figure out if they can open with only low-intensity workouts for adults, or remain closed. The current guidelines still prohibit childrens’ fitness programs, aerobic fitness classes and swimming. High-intensity workouts like weight lifting, aerobics and circuit training can only be done one-on-one with a masked trainer. 

“The majority of our members do look to us for kind of that cardio experience,” Hynes-Dawson said. 

“So it certainly limits our ability to be able to offer and to be able to open with what our most of our members know us for and love us for.”

While acknowledging the effect of exercise on good mental health, Mithani has concerns about lifting some restrictions on gyms. 

She wishes the province would be more specific and set capacity limits on classes. The current guidelines say participants need to be three-metres apart. 

Still the biggest concerns for Mithani and other physicians in the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association are restaurants. 

Alberta guidelines started allowing in-person dining three weeks ago, limiting seating at tables to six and only to members of the same household. 

However, Mithani notes the province has not set any capacity limits for restaurants.

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