Officials urge Albertans not to gather over Easter long weekend

Worried about further spread of COVID-19 as case numbers continue to rise across the province, government officials — and infectious disease experts — are urging people not to gather over the Easter long weekend.

On Wednesday, Alberta recorded its highest number of active cases since Jan. 25 (8,300) and its highest daily count since Jan. 13 (871 new cases).

Three additional deaths were also reported, which has prompted infectious disease experts like Dr. Lynora Saxinger to urge the public not to gather over the upcoming Easter long weekend.

She says it may be tempting to visit family members that have received a COVID-19 vaccine but notes it’s not a "bulletproof" solution and there is higher risk of virus spread in indoor environments.

“Even if you know the most vulnerable member of your family is protected, everyone else who is gathering might not be, and this can make people who would ordinarily be healthy to be at much higher risk of serious illness,” Saxinger said.

“Taking a cautionary approach will make a really big difference over the next several weeks. If we have a post-Easter weekend surge, it would be an aggressive surge, it would be a difficult surge and it would have been an entirely preventable surge.”

Saxinger also pointed to recent research from the Science Table COVID-19 Advisory for Ontario that shows variants are 60 to 90 per cent more likely to cause ICU hospitalization or death. 

“If you’re very young it remains that not everyone will have those problems, but a higher proportion will and the outcomes are severe and we’re already seeing that across Canada with loads of younger people going to the ICU.”

In total, 406 new variant cases identified in Alberta Wednesday now brings the total to 4,055, of which 2,660 are active. 

Premier Jason Kenney said the province was not considering further restrictions and asked people to stay home and stick to their cohort this Easter.  

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw also urged household members not to treat the spread as inevitable, noting that instead, anyone with symptoms should stay away from other people in the household and get tested as soon as possible. 

Hinshaw added that free hotel rooms are also available so people who need to can isolate outside of family homes. 

Both Kenney and Hinshaw will provide a further update to Albertans at 3:30 p.m. on Thrusday. 

Online church services

Calgarians honouring religious holidays over the weekend have still been able to find creative ways to connect safely over the Easter long weekend.

Although physical gatherings are limited to just 15 per cent capacity for worship services, hundreds are still able to attend church online.

John Pentland, minister for Hillhurst United Church, says his church would normally see about 600 people for Easter service, but an online broadcast this year will see well over 1,000 people have the opportunity to tune in.

“Even though we desperately miss each other and the physical touch, we can still connect, we can share the stories and rituals of our tradition with people around the corner and around the world,” Pentland said.

“We commend people that still seek to connect, we know it’s not perfect but hearing the story, the music, the song, the story, and the reflection really brings us together so I’m happy people are still being brave and courageous and celebrating Easter.”

This weekend’s service will be broadcast entirely online, but the church offered a drive-by communion last weekend for Palm Sunday for the first time in Hillhurst United’s 100 year history. 

More than 200 people attended and were able to safely receive bread and wine to honour the sacrament. 

City of Calgary encouraging outdoor activities

With a ban on indoor gatherings remaining in effect throughout the province, the City of Calgary is still encouraging its citizens to enjoy the outdoors this weekend.

Calgarians are still able to enjoy fun activities such as taking children to a Community Nature Adventure Playground, going on a self-guided walking tour at a city park, or taking a nature break at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.

The city says more than 8,000 hectares of park space provide the perfect opportunity to physical distance from others and add that 95 per cent of citizens live within a five-minute walk of their local park.

Other safe activities include booking a fire pit, going on a scavenger hunt or meeting with family and friends for a walk on one of the city’s adaptive roadways set up to provide more space.

What's open and what's closed?

All city recreation facilities will be closed on Friday and Sunday.

Calgary Transit will provide a Sunday level of service on Friday and Sunday, while on-street payment for parking will not be required at ParkPlus zones on Friday, Sunday or Monday. 

Holiday rates will also be in effect at select Calgary Parking Authority lots and parkades throughout the weekend, but regular rates will stay in effect at the Calgary Zoo and Telus Spark. 

City landfills will remain open this weekend.  

East Calgary will be open Friday to Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Spyhill & Shephard landfill will be open on Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. but both facilities will be closed on Easter Sunday.