Could Edmonton reopen before other parts of Alberta due to promising COVID-19 data?

COVID-19 data, along with new comments from health officials and politicians, are prompting questions about when Alberta will relaunch its economy and if some places will open sooner than others.

New COVID-19 cases in Edmonton have been declining since a peak in early April.

It is difficult to interpret a graph in the midst of drawing it, but a professor of infectious disease at the University of Alberta says the graph is nice to see.

“Our numbers are not going up fairly quickly,” said Dr. Stephanie Smith. “So I think that is encouraging. I think we can be encouraged by that.”

On March 31, Edmonton saw 39 new cases of COVID-19. For the first week of April, new cases dropped off a bit but stayed close to that March 31 peak.

However, since then, there have only been a handful of days with new cases in the double-digits.

Calgary’s curve looks different. Cases have been trending up since the first one was discovered.

The Calgary zone is dealing with multiple outbreaks in long-term care centres and the outbreak at the Cargill meatpacking plan in High River is considered to be in the Calgary zone.

Even though Calgary’s numbers are significantly higher than Edmonton’s, both regions are well below case counts and deaths found in the province’s probable modelling released two weeks ago.

As encouraging as some of these numbers are, Smith says the differences between regions likely mean Alberta is not able to move towards an economic relaunch right now.

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“I think maybe we’re not quite there yet given the situation in Calgary, and we can’t really restrict movement within the province all that well,” she said.

Still, some are wondering if it is possible to gradually reopen areas of Alberta while keeping other places closed.

Nationally, Canada’s chief public health officer says she and her provincial colleagues are working on a checklist for provinces looking to reopen.

Dr. Theresa Tam says provinces ought to “tread very carefully” but every jurisdiction will likely act differently.

“Different kinds of epidemics are going across the country,” she said. “So the timing of the measures or changes in what happens, there may be some variations on that.”

That individualized relaunch has some local businesses hoping that could mean different timelines in different parts of the provinces. Michelle Cairns owns a Snap Fitness in south Edmonton. The gym has been closed since March 17.

“As a business owner, yes, I’d like to see things start to open sooner rather than later.”

But she has some health questions.

“How do you stop people from moving region to region,” Cairns said. “I think that the people who are antsy will go from region to region.”

Smith isn’t sure provinces will create different rules for different cities, but she does say the health system might make some changes.

Right now, elective surgeries are cancelled across the province to free up staff and space for COVID-19 patients.

“If Edmonton continues on this path, should we restart more elective surgeries?” Smith asked.

Premier Jason Kenney also addressed when the province might start loosening the public health restrictions. He says a committee will meet this week and he expects more details on Alberta’s relaunch strategy next week.

“I know this is getting increasingly difficult for Albertans, but I do believe with the progress we’ve made, we can see light at the end of the tunnel here,” he said.

However, Kenney added Alberta won’t rush a relaunch. While the province’s efforts to fight COVID-19 appear to be succeeding, moving too soon could prove fatal.

“If we let the virus loose,” Kenney said, “we would lose the value of all the sacrifices we have made to date.”

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