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Airdrie reporting 245 active COVID-19 cases as vaccine verification initiative announced

The City of Airdrie is reporting 245 active cases of COVID-19, as new province-wide restrictions to curb the rising number of cases in the province are set to take effect in the coming days. 
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The City of Airdrie is reporting 245 active COVID-19 cases.

Airdrie is reporting 245 active cases of COVID-19, as new province-wide restrictions to curb the rising number of hospitalizations in Alberta are set to take effect in the coming days. 

As of Sept. 14, provincial statistics indicated 4,191 Airdronians were considered to have recovered from the virus, while 20 people had died. Neighbouring Rocky View County was reporting 151 active COVID-19 cases as of the same date, with 2,194 recovered and seven deaths. 

The provincial health-care system is seeing record-breaking levels of hospital admission amidst the fourth wave in Alberta – 877 people are currently in hospital with the virus, and 218 are being treated in intensive care units. In total, Alberta had 18,421 active cases of COVID-19 as of Sept. 14, and 2,495 Albertans had died from the virus. 

More than 5.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered throughout the province – 79.5 per cent of those 12 and older have received one dose, and 71.4 per cent have received two doses. 

Locally, 79.5 percent of Airdronians 12 and older have received one dose, while 71.7 per cent of eligible residents are fully vaccinated. 

On Sept. 15, a press conference was held to announce new measures intended to slow the spread of the fourth wave. Premier Jason Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, and Alberta Health Services CEO and President Dr. Verna Yiu were all present.

“We are taking necessary and critical steps to prevent our health system from being overwhelmed and once again slow the spread of COVID-19 in Alberta. These steps are not easy for anyone, but with COVID-19 hospitalizations continuing to rise, particularly amongst the unvaccinated, we have no choice but to implement the proof of vaccination measures and temporary restrictions," Kenney said via a press release. 

Numerous public health measures, including the implementation of a "restrictions exemption program' – designed to encourage immunization – were announced. According to the press release, some measure were to take effect on Sept. 16, while others will begin Sept. 20. 

Beginning Sept. 16, a mandatory work-from-home order has been issued, unless an employer has determined a physical presence is required for operational effectiveness. 

Indoor, private gatherings are to be held only by fully-vaccinated individuals, but are limited to two households to a maximum of 10 people. Children under 12 are not included in the count. Outdoor private gatherings are allowed to a maximum of 200 people with physical distancing in place. 

Outdoor events with no indoor elements (excluding washrooms) have no attendance restrictions, but physical distancing must be practiced. 

Places of worship are permitted to host services at one-third of the building's fire code capacity. Masks are mandatory and physical distancing must be in place between households. 

Students in Grade 4 and up are now required to mask up, as well as all teachers and staff. Schools that are able to implement an alternative COVID-19 safety plan may be exempted from mask mandates. Additionally, elementary schools are now required to introduce class cohorting. 

In regards to physical activities in schools, youth 18 and under are not required to wear a mask and maintain distance when engaged in an activity and all outdoor activities can resume without restrictions. Indoor sports, performance, recreation, and special interests are permitted as long as distancing is required. 

Extracurricular sports and activities are permitted, albeit with restrictions. Indoor activities may take place as long as physical distancing and masking are practiced where possible, though masks are not required to be worn by anyone 18 and under when participating in physical activities such as team sports. Symptom screening may also take place.

Spectators are capped at one-third of the building's fire code. Those watching a sporting event must wear a mask and practise distancing between households. 

There are currently no restrictions on outdoor activities. 

Children's day camps are allowed to continue with distancing and indoor masking in place. Overnight camps must abide by cohort models. 

Additional measures will take effect on Sept. 20, but will be not be applied to businesses that apply for the Restrictions Exemption Program. 

According to the release, the program works as follows: to enter certain spaces that are participating in the program, including restaurants, bars and indoor organized events, people aged 12 and older will be required to show their proof of vaccination or a negative recent COVID-19 test result.

Businesses that choose to adopt the program will operate as they normally would, as long as they are only providing service to those who have proof of vaccination or a privately-paid negative test result from within the last 72 hours. 

This means that, under the program, businesses can serve individuals who have proof of double vaccination, documentation of a medical exemption, or proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test completed privately, without any restrictions. 

Individuals under 12 do not have to provide proof as immunization as they are currently ineligible. 

The Restrictions Exemption Program cannot apply to businesses and services that are essential for daily living, such as grocery stories. 

Various businesses impacted by the Sept. 20 measures have the ability to forego restrictions if they apply for the program. Affected areas include restaurants, weddings and funerals, retail, entertainment and recreation facilities, and adult sport, fitness performance and recreation. 

For a full list of public health measures affecting these establishments should they choose not to implement the Restriction Exemption Program, visit https://bit.ly/3ziKgNl

Calls to implement a "vaccine passport" style initiative have been going on for weeks, and the provincial government has finally conceded in a last-ditch effort to prevent a complete collapse of the health care system, 

Minister Shandro touted the benefits of the new program in the press release, despite frequently dodging specific questions about vaccine verification from the media leading up to the Sept. 15 announcement. 

“The new proof of vaccination requirements will make us all safer. This will help increase vaccination rates across the province and protect Albertans in settings that pose a higher risk of transmission," Shandro said. "We’ve seen from other jurisdictions that proof of vaccinations do help encourage people to get vaccinated, and I am calling on every eligible Albertan to get fully immunized as soon as possible.”

A COVID-19 update with Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Dr. Verna Yiu is set for Sept. 16 at 3:30 p.m.