Alberta gym owners won’t be ticketed for violating relaxed COVID-19 measures: Shandro

The health minister said enforcement will be a ‘last resort’ for gyms that don’t comply with the precautions

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The province won’t look to issue fines to operators of gyms and fitness studios that violate Alberta’s relaxed public health rules, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Tuesday.

Speaking at Alberta’s daily COVID-19 briefing, Shandro clarified confusion surrounding the province’s updated rules announced the previous day.

The province eased restrictions for indoor fitness facilities and libraries on Monday, as Alberta moved into step two of its reopening plan. The updated rules allow indoor gyms to reopen for individual and low-intensity group activities, while libraries can welcome visitors as long as they do not exceed 15 per cent of their capacity.

Gym users must book an appointment, while high-intensity activity is restricted to one-on-one training. Masks remain mandatory during low-intensity fitness training.

Shandro defined low-intensity fitness activities as “stuff that doesn’t make you breathe significantly harder than you usually do.” High-intensity fitness “is any kind of exercise that does make you breathe a lot harder than usual,” he said.

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“The higher your heart rate, the higher your breathing rate will be,” said Shandro.

“It’s not about what activity you are doing or where, it’s about the intensity. We know this will vary between people and depending on somebody’s individual level of fitness and that’s why gym and studio and fitness centre operators need to use their best judgment in identifying what category their group exercise classes fall into.”

The health minister said enforcement will be a “last resort” for gyms that don’t comply with the precautions.

“We recognize that this is challenging and there are going to be questions, there are going to be issues about exactly how to apply this in practice,” Shandro said.

“I want to be clear. We’re relying on owners and clients to use judgment, to show good faith, people to follow the rules. But as with all of AHS’ work to enforce public health measures, the goal is compliance, it’s not sanctions. We’re not looking for opportunities to hand out tickets. We’re not looking to close businesses.”

He said a telephone town hall will be held with fitness centre operators soon to answer any lingering questions.

More measures could be eased in the coming weeks if COVID-19 case figures continue declining, Shandro added.

Entering the third phase of Alberta’s reopening strategy requires a three-week gap so provincial health officials can monitor the effects of current rules on community transmission and ensure hospitalizations remain below 300. The government could ease restrictions in step three for adult team sports, casinos, indoor social gatherings, certain seated events and places of worship.

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Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Alberta looked to its western neighbour’s experiences when deciding to relax restrictions for gyms.

She said the B.C. model, which also created a distinction between high- and low-intensity fitness activities, has been successful. Increased droplets are produced during high-intensity workouts, creating an increased risk of virus spread, according to Hinshaw.

“We know that B.C. has had a similar approach to this model in place for many months and that their COVID-19 numbers have been relatively stable,” said Hinshaw.

“I recognize the important role physical activity and fitness play in our overall physical and mental health. That’s why we’ve worked hard to find ways to safely open up fitness facilities for lower risk activities, in collaboration with the operators of these facilities.”

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Alberta’s top doctor said she has heard questions about why the province didn’t implement capacity limits for gyms, unlike other settings such as retail stores.

“Rather than a defined number, we have limited capacity by putting in place physical distancing protocols that require a minimum of three metres between all individuals,” she explained.

The province reported 257 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing the total number of active cases across Alberta to 4,631. Of those, 34 per cent, or 1,560, were in Alberta Health Services’ Calgary zone.

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There were 261 Albertans infected by the coronavirus in hospital, including 54 being treated in intensive-care units.

Alberta reported two more fatalities related to COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing its coronavirus death toll to 1,890 since the pandemic began.

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The province also detected 35 more cases of the COVID-19 strain first identified in the U.K., as there have been 492 total variant cases of the virus recorded to date.

Of those, eight cases have been of the strain first identified in South Africa.

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Earlier in the day, Shandro said Alberta is considering extending the wait time between doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, but provincial officials haven’t yet decided exactly how long. Alberta currently administers second doses of the vaccine within 42 days of first doses.

B.C. health officials have said that province would extend the time people may have to wait between doses to 16 weeks from six weeks.

Hinshaw said Alberta bases its decisions on available evidence, “which emerges over time.”

“One of the things that’s really encouraging that’s coming out of real world experiences with using the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is seeing high levels of protection from the first dose that last for several months,” she said.

The province had administered 245,054 vaccine doses as of Monday, representing 5,541.8 shots for every 100,000 Albertans. More than 88,500 Albertans have been immunized with both necessary doses of the vaccine.

shudes@postmedia.com
Twitter: @SammyHudes

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