POLITICS
07/21/2020 19:29 EDT

Jason Kenney To Albertans In Big Groups As Case Rates Surge: ‘Knock It Off’

The province recorded triple-digit increases on multiple days this week.

Chris Scharz/Government of Alberta
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney during a news conference on July 21, 2020.

As Alberta recorded another triple-digit increase of COVID-19 cases Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney had a firm message for people socializing in large groups: “knock it off.”

“It looks like some folks are no longer observing the public health guidelines,” Kenney told reporters Tuesday. 

“If you think you can socialize with large people in close quarters, knock it off.”

While billed as an announcement about the province’s school reopening plan for the fall, both Kenney and chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw faced questions about the recent surge in cases in the province.

WATCH: Alberta records jump in COVID-19 cases. Story continues below. 

 

Alberta saw 141 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, following a weekend where 368 new cases were confirmed over a three-day period. The 165-case increase on July 18 was the highest such total confirmed in the province since May 1.

There are currently 1,193 active cases in the province and Alberta has the highest per capita rate of active COVID-19 cases out of all the provinces. The 20-29-year-old age group makes up the largest portion of active cases. There are currently 16 regions in the province under “COVID-19 watch,” meaning they have at least 50 active cases per 100,000 residents.

Hinshaw said she is concerned about the rise in cases, and particularly where they come from. Around half of all active cases in the province are not linked to a known case, suggesting widespread community transmission among the population. 

It looks like some folks are no longer observing the public health guidelines.Alberta Premier Jason Kenney

“The actual number is likely greater than what we know about,” she said. 

Hinshaw referenced a possible “tipping point” that could be reached where cases start to balloon and overwhelm the health-care system, and said Alberta officials are closely watching jurisdictions like the United States, which are currently seeing massive spikes in new cases.

“It is possible that new cases could spike in a very rapid rate once it reaches that tipping point,” she said.

“Now is the time to recognize that covid cases and hospitalizations can rise quickly unless we all take actions to quickly stop the spread.”

On Tuesday, officials announced that Alberta is still moving forward with plans to fully reopen schools in the fall with “enhanced health measures.” These include converting water fountains in water bottle refill stations, limiting activities like singing and encouraging social distancing. 

“We are determined to do everything that we can to safely return our students, teachers and staff to school,” Education Minister Adrianna LaGrange said Tuesday. 

LaGrange said the door is open for individual schools to respond to localized outbreaks or issues during the school year. However, there are currently no provincial limits on class sizes or mask requirements for students or staff. 

Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta
Alberta chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw speaks during a press conference on July 21, 2020.

In a statement Tuesday, NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley criticized the province’s broad reopening plan.

“It’s not about stay open versus stay closed, it’s about open versus open safely,” Notley said. “Jason Kenney has chosen just open.”

Hinshaw said the prospect of reopening schools in the safest environment possible should motivate Albertans to make smart choices around COVID-19 in the coming days, weeks and months.

“The best way to have safe and healthy schools this fall is to start the school year with a low count of cases in the population,” Hinshaw said. “We all need to do our part.”