A Calgary emergency room physician believes new restrictions on social gathering sizes in Alberta are a good start, but they aren't strong enough as case numbers continue to grow.

"I think the only way to manage this is through strong health regulations that are mandated and we're not there yet. So we do need stronger recommendations," said Dr. Joe Vipond, an emergency room doctor at the Rockyview General Hospital. "I think it can be debated whether the 15 number is low enough. I think it could be dropped I don't really see a need for people to be gathering in such numbers at this point in time."

On Monday, Alberta’s top doctor announced new public health measures for Calgary and Edmonton to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The mandatory restrictions include a 15-person limit on all social gatherings.

"This limit applies to gatherings where people are mixing and mingling, such as dinner parties, birthday parties, social events and wedding and funeral receptions," said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, in her update. "It also applies to special events celebrations like retirement events, baby showers and other social gatherings.

"This limit does not change the measures currently in place for events that are structured, such as ordinary dining and restaurants theaters worship services, or wedding and funeral ceremonies. However, it would apply to gatherings that may occur before or after these events, such as wedding receptions, or a social event at a restaurant or another site."

Hinshaw said social gatherings have made up 15 per cent of all outbreaks in Calgary and Edmonton over the last two weeks. In contrast, there has been one outbreak linked to a restaurant and less than one per cent of active cases in both cities are linked to exposures in restaurants.

The province is also suggesting voluntary public health measures including the wearing of non-medical masks in indoor work settings and a limiting yourself to a maximum of three cohorts. 

"I think there's a lot more that can be done. I think anything voluntary just doesn't have the impact that that public health officials want it to." said Vipond.

Vipond, who is also a co-founder of the Masks4Canada advocacy group, said the restrictions could be stronger in other venues. 

"I think we're neglecting restaurants, gyms, places of worship and other areas of big gatherings, especially those areas where masks are unable to be worn, such as gyms restaurants and bars," said Vipond. "Their rationale is that they're not seeing super spreader events in those facilities in Alberta, but I think we need to inform ourselves of what's happening around the world.

"This pandemic is not just Alberta specific it's happening in other regions and we know that restaurants, bars and gyms are significant sources of spread."

With the holiday season approaching, Vipond suggests people should plan events outside, even as temperatures drop. 

"Do it outside, wear a jacket, build the fire pits, get out cross-country skiing with your friends, go for walks the place to be gathering is outside and, if you're gonna have to be close together, wear a mask outside," said Vipond. "That combination of wearing a mask and doing events outside is very reasonable. It’s the indoor events, unmasked, that are really dangerous."

The new restrictions are scheduled to be assessed next month.