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Top doc says rural COVID-19 rising, but Kenney says cities focus of any new rules

Alberta Premier targets cities with tougher restrictions, but medical officer reports rise of cases in rural areas

December 7, 2020  The Canadian Press

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says tougher health restrictions likely to be aimed at Calgary and Edmonton are coming if current public-health orders don’t bend the curve down on COVID-19.

Kenney, taking questions on a Facebook town-hall meeting, says it makes sense to target the novel coronavirus where it’s having the most impact.

“If you’re in a remote community with a negligible number of COVID cases, where there are no cases in the local hospitals, that is not the issue right now,” Kenney said Thursday night.

“The issue is the hot zones in Calgary and Edmonton — and that’s what we’ll be addressing with increasing focus in the days to come.”

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His comments came just hours after Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical health officer, reported a concerning rise in rates in rural areas. She stressed that even one case can move like wildfire and COVID-19 doesn’t respect geographical boundaries.

“COVID-19 is not a Calgary problem or Edmonton problem. This is a provincial problem,” Hinshaw said.

Alberta Health says more than 15 per cent of active infections are in areas outside the Edmonton and Calgary medical zones. About 30 per cent are outside the four largest cities of Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer and Lethbridge.

Areas with high active case counts per 100,000 population include Banff, the Municipal District of Acadia and Smoky Lake County.

Health officials are reassigning staff, space, and patients to free up more intensive care beds, while dealing with outbreaks at 22 hospitals and health facilities. The government is also exploring bringing in medical field tents from the Red Cross if needed.

Last week, Kenney introduced tighter provincewide health restrictions that included a ban on indoor gatherings.

But there are looser measures for areas with low infection rates. They don’t have to follow a 25 per cent capacity limit in businesses or a maximum of six people — all from the same household — at one table in restaurants. Nor do they have to abide by a one-third capacity rule for worship services.

Most municipalities have made it mandatory to wear masks in indoor public spaces. Kenney has, unlike all other premiers, refused to implement that provincewide. He has said it’s unnecessary in remote areas and some rural folk would refuse to wear masks if it were an order.

Cold Lake, a city of almost 15,000 in the province’s northeast, has twice voted down a mandatory mask bylaw. Mayor Craig Copeland said Friday masks don’t need to be required, because people are following guidelines from Hinshaw.