Alberta’s chief medical officer of health has penned a letter to people who operate hard-hit entertainment venues in the province that lays out potential dates for when in-person events might resume amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the letter also clearly indicates that allowing for such activities could only occur if the province has been able to properly control the novel coronavirus within its borders.
“We acknowledge the economic challenges you are facing requires the inclusion of an audience as soon as possible,” Hinshaw writes, in a letter dated April 9.
Global News has obtained the letter from one of its recipients and verified its authenticity with Alberta Health.
The letter includes dates regarding the “potential timing for the return of audiences,” should health officials deem the COVID-19 situation in the province to be sufficiently under control when it comes to factors including how many Albertans have been vaccinated, are in hospital or are infected with the novel coronavirus.
“Alberta continues to closely monitor COVID-19 and the variants of concern and is taking a cautious approach to easing restrictions over the coming months,” Hinshaw writes.
Watch below: Some recent videos about the COVID-19 situation in Alberta.
The letter suggests outdoor events, with venues able to fill seats to 15 per cent of capacity and up to a maximum of 100 people, could potentially be allowed by late May if the province makes sufficient progress in responding to the so-called third wave of COVID-19.
By late June, Hinshaw writes the province could look at allowing outdoor venues to fill seats to 50 per cent of capacity and up to a maximum of 500 people, again, if the COVID-19 situation is deemed to be sufficiently under control. Hinshaw suggests that late June could also potentially be when indoor venues might be allowed to fill seats to 15 per cent of capacity and up to a maximum of 100 people.
If the COVID-19 situation in the province improves significantly enough, Hinshaw writes that all capacity limits could potentially be lifted for venues by the end of July.
“All of this is contingent upon the state of cases and associated pressures on the health-care system as well as progress on immunizations,” she notes. “We will continue to work with your sector as we approach these important milestones.”
Hinshaw’s letter says if the situation improves rapidly and significantly in the province, the potential timelines indicated in the correspondence could possibly even be fast-tracked.
In the six days since Hinshaw wrote the letter, the COVID-19 crisis in Alberta has significantly intensified, with the province consistently seeing well over 1,000 new coronavirus cases a day and with the number of cases involving variants of concern reaching record levels. At the same time, hospitalizations have increased, despite more and more Albertans receiving vaccinations each day.
Tom McMillan, a spokesperson for Alberta Health acknowledged that the province is trying to help “performance groups get a sense of what the future could possibly hold,” but added that “no final decisions have been made.”
“This includes decisions around specific timing and capacity limits at in-person events,” he said in an email to Global News. “Any future changes to the health measures in place will be based on the spread of COVID-19 in the province and our ability to bend down the curve.
“We will publicly announce any future changes when they are made,” he continued. “The faster that we can reduce spread and administer vaccines, the more quickly we can reduce restrictions in the months ahead.”
Earlier this week, the organizers of at least three major music events in Alberta — the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, Big Valley Jamboree and the Country Thunder Alberta music festival — announced their events would not take place this summer, citing the risk still posed by the novel coronavirus, the reality of current COVID-19 restrictions and issues presented by the ongoing U.S. border closure.
However, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi suggested this week that if the COVID-19 situation is brought under control, he believes the Calgary Stampede may “look a little more like a normal Stampede” this summer.
Watch below: Premier Jason Kenney says the Alberta government will have an update for summer festivals like the Calgary Stampede soon.
The potential for live, in-person entertainment events outlined by Hinshaw appears to be in keeping with Step 4 of the province’s reopening plan that was introduced this winter.
That phase is the final step outlined in the plan.
Last month, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Alberta was not moving to Step 3 of its reopening plan yet because of concerning pandemic indicators suggesting the health crisis was intensifying.
Then, last week, the province announced it was bringing back restrictions like suspending in-person dining in order to respond to surging COVID-19 cases. The announcement brought Alberta back into Step 1 of its reopening plan.
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