Covid-19 Update for September 16, 2021
Following the Government of Alberta announcement on September 15, our Chamber starting receiving inquiries. We were pleased to have an opportunity to meet with Minister Schweitzer and his department that evening at 8:30 pm to ask some initial questions.
Some of our initial questions that were answered that evening included:
Q. Will businesses have to apply for the exemption status?
A. At this time, businesses won’t have to apply, but there will be auditing and enforcement
Q. Where restrictions start on September 20th, do businesses continue operating under current protocols until new protocols occur on the 20th?
A. As of midnight, the masking and physical distancing will be in place, and alcohol curfew still applies. When the 20th hits, the additional restrictions start where it is limited to outdoor dining unless you have the exemption program in place.
Q. Is there some additional clarification on events and the exemption program – for example, if there is proof of vaccination, does that mean that event/business/service can be fully open, no masks, distancing or cohorts required, as even households are limited as of September 16th even with vaccinations.
A. The intent is to be able to operate effectively at capacity with the exemption. However, there will still be some mask requirements for certain types of events and the fire code capacity restriction may still apply but will be clarified. The department is still working on guidelines for these.
Q. Can the restriction exemption program be applied to the mandatory work-from-home measures?
A. They are leaving it up to businesses on how they will operate, as even vaccinated staff can spread and so ultimately want to limit the spread.
Q. Will businesses be able to stay open later and serve liquor with the restriction exemption program?
We did have a few additional questions that we posed to Government and have followed up to clarify the following:
- Do businesses continue to contact BizConnect for questions, and will that department be provided additional resources to manage the increased demand that will inevitably start? What is the anticipated response time for inquiries to BizConnect?
- For unvaccinated staff, if they have a medical exemption or rapid test, can they attend work for operational efficiencies, if required? Would both a medical exemption and rapid test be required, or is one or the other sufficient?
- Where do essential services fall, such as the construction industry? Are they exempt from any restrictions moving forward, or will they need to adhere to the exemption program or have additional restrictions if they are not part of the exemption program?
- Can in-person business meetings, such as client meetings, board meetings and committee meetings still occur if proof of vaccination is required?
- One other element is food service at indoor and outdoor events, including community events, meetings, weddings, and funerals. For example, is a self-service buffet still allowed, or does it need to be plated or served by a designated person and what would be the protocol in either restriction or exempt situations?
- What businesses are considered to be those that need to be accessed for “daily living”?
We also provided some additional recommendations:
- We would recommend going back to the original guidance documents to ensure no industries are left in the dark about how the restrictions apply to them.
- It would be great if there were a program similar to the Post Promise or Safe Stay, where a business could put up a recognizable decal or poster for complying with the exemption program.
- It would be ideal if rapid tests could be provided to high-traffic locations such as restaurants and retailers who would like to offer it to patrons and are complying with the exemption program. This could be done for a fee.
- It would be beneficial to allow business meetings and events without strict distancing measures if they comply with all other exemption program elements. Distancing can be a challenge with events and even within retail and restaurant spaces and undoubtedly hard to enforce, so feasibility and enforcement will need to be considered.
- We would also recommend considering indoor group classes if distancing or barriers are in place. Perhaps they can be eligible for exemptions in the case where physical barriers are placed between stations? Would all restrictions be lifted if they are part of the exemption program, or would there still be certain baseline restrictions?
Update: September 19
Since September 16, we have received additional responses to our questions:
- The Order and information is now available online: https://www.alberta.ca/covid-19-public-health-actions.aspx.
- The Restrictions Exemption Program permits in-scope businesses, entities and organizers to operate without most public health restrictions as outlined in Order 43-2021. Masks are still mandatory indoors. Not all businesses are eligible to participate in the Restriction Exemption Program. There are in-scope and out-of-scope businesses that can be referenced here: https://www.alberta.ca/covid-19-public-health-actions.aspx. Operators that are out-of-scope or choose not to fully implement the program must comply with all public health restrictions outlined in Order 42-2021.
- Bizconnect emails are being forwarded to Alberta Health Operations who are handling correspondence. The turnaround time is dependent on volumes received but we are working diligently to ensure all Albertans receive a response.
- The Restriction Exemption program is not intended to be for employees of a business, nor does it replace the working from home mandate. If a business wishes to mandate that its staff are vaccinated, they can but they must seek legal advice themselves.
- Masking is required as a baseline, even when a business is participating in the Restriction Exemption Program.
- If a venue participates in the Restriction Exemption Program, those who can attend are vaccinated. They are allowed to attend with other vaccinated individuals as they will be masked at all times (other than food/drink consumption). That is why there can be more than the household.
- Accommodations, such as a hotel is not able to implement the REP; however the conference/meeting spaces/halls and rented space (excluding dwelling units) can implement the REP.
- Once the REP is implemented, it must be operated consistently for daily operations and throughout the facility.
- It is not permitted to have the program operate some days and not others, for certain times during a business day and not others, or in some areas and not others.
- Specifically, restaurants that have implemented the program must apply the program to the entire area of food service, both inside and outside.
- Operators participating in the REP that provide rental spaces to others must ensure their renters are aware of and adhere to the REP requirements.
- Operators that rent facilities to other groups (for private events) are responsible to ensure that the renting group is aware of the need to adhere to public health orders unless the rental group implements the REP.
- If the rental group implements the REP, they must strictly adhere to the requirements of this document. Operators remain responsible for the adherence to public health restrictions in their facilities.
- Rapid tests that have been provided by the Alberta Government cannot be used for the REP program; however, they can continue to be used to test employees. Testing for patrons needs to be from a private provider that will provide proof of date and outcome or the organization can provide tests at their own cost. It is recommended that operators seek expert advice including medical oversight prior to implementing a rapid test program. If an individual tests positive for COVID-19, that individual must isolate, per CMOH Order 06-2021 and CMOH Order 39-2021.
- Right now, there are several options patrons can use to prove vaccination status:
- Paper: Immunization record received at immunization appointments
- Technology: Records shown from MyHealth Records app or website
- Printable card: Paper card printable from MyHealth Records app or https://www.albertavaccinerecord.ca/#/
- Printable Record from a local registry office
As of October 1, we expect a QR code option to be introduced with additional information for businesses on how to use this option.
- Children and those with medical exemptions are not subject to vaccination requirements through REP. In addition, from September 20 – October 25, proof of a single dose is acceptable as long as the dose was given more than two weeks before time of service. After October 25, proof of double vaccination is required.
The Restriction Exemption Program Chief Medical Officer of Health Order will provide further details along with the requirements for the restrictions exemption program.
New provincewide public health measures in effect as of Sept. 20
For in-scope operators that are eligible but do not implement the Restrictions Exemption program, the following mandatory measures are now in effect:
- Outdoor dining only with a maximum of six individuals per table (one household or two close contacts for those living alone).
- Liquor sales and consumption restrictions (10 p.m. sales and 11 p.m. consumption) apply.
Weddings and funerals
- All indoor ceremonies and services are limited to 50 attendees or 50 per cent fire code capacity, whichever is less.
- No indoor receptions are permitted.
- The hosting facility would be eligible to implement the Restrictions Exemption Program.
- All outdoor ceremonies and services for weddings and funerals must be limited to 200 attendees. Outdoor receptions are required to follow liquor sales and consumption restrictions.
Entertainment and recreation facilities (includes any indoor venues, libraries, conferences, rental spaces, concerts, nightclubs, casinos and similar)
- Attendance is limited to one-third fire code capacity and attendees are only permitted to attend with their household or two close contacts for those living alone. Attendees must be masked and have two-metre physical distancing between households.
Adult sport, fitness, performance and recreation
- Indoor activities
- No indoor group classes or activities are permitted.
- One-on-one training or individual workouts are permitted but three-metre physical distancing is required.
- No contact between players; indoor competitions are paused except where vaccine exemptions have been granted.
- There are no restrictions on outdoor activities.
Out-of-scope operators who are not eligible for the Restrictions Exemption Program must follow the public health restrictions as defined in Order 42-2021, including masking and distancing requirements, and occupancy limits.
Public health measures that came into effect on Sept. 16 remain in place provincewide.
The Government of Alberta has committed to get back to us on our questions that they were unable to answer once they have more information.
Please continue to visit alberta.ca/covid-19 for information on Alberta’s current situation.
We will continue to keep our members updated as we receive new information. Be sure to subscribe to the Voice to stay up to date.