Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details.
Albertans who don’t do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19 can now face stiff financial penalties, now that law enforcement agencies have been granted full authority to enforce public health orders.
The message the province delivered Wednesday was clear: everyone must always do everything that they can to prevent community transmission of the novel coronavirus.
“Sadly, not everyone seems to get it,” stated Premier Jason Kenney during the daily press conference from Edmonton.
Fines for violating health orders have increased to $1,000 per occurrence. Police and community peace officers will be granted the authority to issue these tickets while courts can administer fines of up to $100,000 for a first offence and up to $500,000 for subsequent offences for more serious violations. These new fines will come into effect within the next few days.
Slowing the spread of the pandemic in this province means keeping your distance from others, self-isolating and regularly washing your hands with soap.
Kenney added other strict health enforcement measures are now in effect, including mandatory self-isolation for travellers returning to the province from outside of the country. The federal government introduced a similar measure this morning.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced there are now 419 Albertans with confirmed diagnoses, an increase of 61 since yesterday. The number of these cases that are suspected community transmissions is now up to 33.
‘Flattening the curve’, the phrase used to encourage people to help reduce the rate of those community transmissions, has seen modest effect. A graph on the province’s dedicated website covid19stats.alberta.ca shows a more gradual incline of community transmissions as compared to the instances of those resulting from close contact or from travel.
Still, the numbers continue to rise and the potential of further transmission rises with it.
“These are significant case numbers, and they underscore the seriousness of the situation that we face,” Hinshaw said.
Hinshaw revealed that an outbreak was reported late Tuesday night at an adult group home for people with developmental disabilities. One staff member and two residents at the facility have tested positive while nine other cases have been recorded in staff and residents of long-term care or other continuing care facilities including Rosedale On The Park and Shepherd’s Care – Kensington Village, both of which are in the Edmonton zone.
“I know that many Albertans are concerned about these cases and about the spread of COVID-19. I am concerned as well, which is why, as Premier Kenney has outlined, public health orders will now be enforced by law. This step is essential to protect the health and safety of Albertans.”
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Hinshaw noted she has also given additional mandatory guidelines to all healthcare operators and service providers to help keep those living and working in those settings as safe as possible.
We all have a role to play, she continued, and that means even close family members no longer eating from the same bowl of popcorn.
This direction became “abundantly clear” after fully understanding what happened at the Edmonton bonspiel where nearly half of the Alberta health care workers in attendance tested positive.
“We suspect the virus was spread at a buffet where serving spoons were handled by many people. I know it might seem strange to limit these activities in your own home. However, this is important modelling that we as parents can share with our children. It is another step that we can take to keep each other safe.”
As Easter and Ramadan are fast approaching, she stressed how important it is to instill these behaviours now. She spoke with faith leaders from across the province to encourage them to spread this message since many people will need to change plans for their religious celebrations in the coming weeks and possibly months.
“Now is not the time to plan any travel, even to other cities or provinces, or to attend large family gatherings or dinners. We must maintain social distancing practices, even when we are together with family. Now is not the time to visit grandparents for Sunday dinner. Now is not the time to host or attend a potluck with friends. Now is not the time to plan for a family reunion,” she stated.
“This is the time to stay home and work together to limit the spread.”
Public health orders that can be enforced by fines include:
- Any individual who has travelled outside of Canada must go into mandatory self-isolation for 14 days from their return, plus an additional 10 days from the onset of any symptoms should they occur, whichever is longer.
- Any individual who exhibits COVID-19 symptoms must self-isolate for a minimum of 10 days from the start of their symptoms, or until the symptoms resolve, whichever is longer. Symptoms include cough, fever, shortness of breath, runny nose, or a sore throat.
- Any individual who has been identified by as a close contact of a person(s) with COVID-19 must go into mandatory self-isolation for 14 days from the date of last having been exposed to COVID-19, plus an additional 10 days from the onset of any symptoms should they occur, whichever is longer.
- Mass gatherings must be limited to no more than 50 attendees.
- Access to public recreational facilities, private entertainment facilities, bars and nightclubs is prohibited.
- Visitation to long-term care and other continuing care facilities is limited to essential visitors only.
Watch the news conference: