Jordan Heath-Rawlings: One by one, Canada’s provinces are exiting lockdowns, mostly in stages, but not always. Tomorrow, the largest province enters its third stage of reopening, and this one is a big one.
News Clip: Every day, the people of Ontario continue to do their part to put an end to the pandemic. The province will move to Step Three of the road map to reopen on Friday, July 16th. Step Three focuses on the safe resumption of additional indoor services, with larger numbers of people.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Indoor dining, full capacity shopping, gyms, even strip clubs, and the potential of at least a semi-packed stadium in the not too distant future. This is a wonderful sign. Normalcy is right there on the horizon. But after a previous easing of basically the same restrictions in the winter led to the worst wave of COVID 19 Ontario has seen, it’s fair to say there is a little trepidation.
News Clip: According to an Ipsos poll exclusive to Global News, 51% of Canadians feel anxious about resuming normal activities.
News Clip: I mean, I’m wearing my mask now, and I see a lot of people that don’t have them on and they’re outside, and it’s supposed to be safer, but I don’t know.
News Clip: Because I know that I’m not in danger, but it’s more of a sense of what are we doing?
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: When Ontario reopens, will cases rise? How quickly? We’ve seen spikes in the United Kingdom. Cases are currently rising in many places in America. Is disaster still lurking? You can’t blame people for being afraid in the face of the unknown, except it’s not unknown. While Ontario often takes little notice of the rest of Canada, there is a province that’s been totally open for a while now. In fact, it’s been just over two weeks, which is when you would expect to see a spike in COVID cases resulting from the easing of restrictions. So what is it like in Alberta, where they reopened on July 1st? Well, it’s like this:
News Clip: Today, Alberta is open. Open for summer.
News Clip: The province reporting 35 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday
News Clip: The first parade since this pandemic started. And we are talking in all of Canada.
News Clip: Yeah. So it’s all eyes on Calgary this morning.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: So is that what Ontario and the rest of Canada have to look forward to as all restrictions are dropped? Has Alberta seen any hiccups? Do they have a plan in place if they do? And what’s it like being almost totally back to normal?
I’m Jordan Heath-Rawlings, this is the Big Story. Darcy Ropchan is a video journalist with CityNews Edmonton. And so Darcy, I guess you’ve had a frontline view for the reopening of Canada’s first fully open province.
Darcy Ropchan: Yes, I did. The province announced that back at the end of June, about a week, I believe, before Canada Day-
News Clip: Yesterday, Alberta officially surpassed the 70% vaccination threshold to trigger Stage Three of Alberta’s open for summer plan. On July the 1st on Canada Day, Alberta’s public health measures will be lifted and our lives will get back to normal.
Darcy Ropchan: So it’s been open for a couple of weeks now.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Tell me about that first day or first weekend of reopening in Alberta, coinciding with Canada Day. First of all, tell me about it from your perspective. What was it like for you?
Darcy Ropchan: Well, on Canada Day, I had the day off and I kind of just hung around Edmonton and I live near Whyte Ave, which is a pretty big hub in Edmonton here, a big main street, and it was like life had come back again. The streets were full of people, restaurants were open, bars were open, folks were just out watching the fireworks, etc, was almost like life had gone back to normal a little bit.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: When we’re talking about reopening for those of us in Ontario or BC or other places that are still sort of grappling with various stages, what is reopening in Alberta? What restrictions, if any, are still in place?
Darcy Ropchan: The biggest restriction that’s still in place is you have to wear a mask if you’re on transit or taking a taxi or an Uber. And I know here in Edmonton, there’s certain city facilities like gyms, museums and stuff like that, where you still have to wear a mask. But outside of that, things are are pretty much back to normal. The only thing we’re missing is the festival and concert event side of it. But those are coming up quite soon
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: And it’s Stampede time, right? What does that look like right now? I know for Calgary, it’s definitely a scaled down event compared to what it is last year.
News Clip: Workers are wearing masks. Guests can make their own choice. Cleaning and sanitization is increased, and they’re asking everyone to distance
Darcy Ropchan: Smaller crowd size is a bit of a smaller midway. I don’t think there’s as many shows as there normally would be. And I know Nashville North, which is kind of the big beer garden tent area, is requiring a proof of vaccination to get in.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: How is that going over with Albertans, who aren’t generally or at least haven’t generally been in favour of these kind of proof of vaccination stuff?
Darcy Ropchan: A lot of folks aren’t happy with that thought of needing to prove, like a vaccination passport or something like that to get into an event or to travel. So I see a lot of folks making noise online about it. And then in general, from what I’ve talked to people, it seems to be 50/50. Some people are happy the Stampede is back, other people are saying maybe it would have been better to wait just another summer and then the event could come back in full force in 2022.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: In terms of that, I’ve seen images of both the Prime Minister and opposition leaders out in Alberta. How much of what’s going on out there now feels like kind of a way for politicians to tell Canadians like we’re open, we’re back.
Darcy Ropchan: I mean, the Stampede has always been that kind of event. It’s always been a huge photo-op event for any politician making their way through Alberta. There’s that classic Stampede Breakfast.
News Clip: Well, good morning and welcome to the Premier Stampede Breakfast. We are so excited to be back here, welcoming Albertans and people from across Canada to the greatest outdoor show on Earth.
Darcy Ropchan: And I think regardless of where a party is on the political spectrum, they’re just happy that it looks like Alberta is hopefully opened up for good this time.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: What’s the political discussion like in Alberta? I know that the last time we checked in with one of your colleagues, it was quite a low point for Jason Kenny in terms of his approval rating. As the province has reopened in case numbers have gone down, what’s been the feeling out of the legislature?
Darcy Ropchan: I know when he first announced that Canada Day would be the open for business day, there was a huge debate around whether we were opening too early. At that point, I believe only of people had received their first doses. So there was this big question around vaccine hesitancy. And will enough people get their second dose? Are we opening too early? What will happen if cases shoot up two or three weeks after we open? And now I haven’t heard too much from that. We’ve had very low case numbers for the past couple of days. It seems like vaccine uptake is quite high. A lot of folks, most folks who are eligible, are booking their second dose or those who want it, I should say. So it seems like there was some nervousness at first, some apprehension at first. But as the weeks go by, we’re seeing that things are relatively okay here.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: When you say you’ve been having some low cases over the past couple of days, can you give me an example, like, where are they compared to, I guess, where they were before reopening or even in the worst of the last wave?
Darcy Ropchan: Well, what’s interesting is yesterday we had 35 COVID cases or new cases, I should say. And then just under, I believe, 600 active cases. And the last time we saw those numbers was last summer when cases took a dip, obviously with the warm weather.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: And we’re speaking on July 14th. So exactly two weeks after the province reopened. So I would imagine that we’d be starting to see a spike now. Or maybe you will start to see one in the next few days here, if that initial crowded weekend had any impact.
Darcy Ropchan: Very much so. And then I know several doctors have said in the past that warm weather, the cases will take a little bit of a dip when the weather gets warmer. But then the other factor is obviously vaccine uptake. Like I said, 70%, over 70% of people have received their first dose. A lot of people are booking second doses. So that is the other factor here is how much of the population is going to get vaccinated.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: In terms of what happens next as the restrictions hopefully stay gone and the case numbers hopefully stay low. Do we know if there are any plans in place for dealing with a potential spike? Has Premier Kenny talked at all about what he’ll do and what restrictions he’s prepared to put back in place, if any, if they become necessary?
Darcy Ropchan: I haven’t heard much from Kenny in that regard. I know the city of Edmonton itself, where I’m from, has said that they’re ready to implement masks again if cases start shooting up, they’re ready to take some of their own action. But I think a lot of people are banking on the fact that vaccines are going to take us out of this.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: What about individual businesses? I know you can’t obviously speak to all of them, but one of the things that is currently on the agenda as we move into Stage Three of reopening in Ontario is which businesses will require proof of vaccination, which businesses will continue to demand masks be worn even after a provincial mandate goes away, those kind of questions. What does that look like at in Alberta?
Darcy Ropchan: There is a discussion, I think, just publicly, about the idea of vaccine passports. I mean, I haven’t heard anything official from any business or anything like that. When it comes to masks, it’s more of a societal thing. I did a story last week where I went to a mall just on a Tuesday afternoon and just counted how many people were wearing masks. And on a semi busy mall on a Tuesday afternoon, about three quarters of the people, about 70, 75% of the people I would say, were wearing masks, even though they weren’t legally required to. So I think, I think societally, there’s still this pressure on folks to still maybe wear their masks a little bit, especially if they’re indoors in a smaller business.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Tell me what it was like just to be in a crowded mall again for that amount of time. I think lots of us have probably had dreams, either positive dreams or anxiety dreams about, what it would be like to be in a public space like that again.
Darcy Ropchan: It was a little nerve-racking, I’ll admit. I mean, I wore my mask when I was in there just because I feel almost naked without it now. And to be in a mall with a lot of people around, you are a little nervous just knowing obviously the pandemic is still out there in some form or another. But on the other hand, it’s nice to see folks back out in public again. It shows you that life is slowly but surely returning to some kind of old normal.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: I want to ask you about the psychology of mask wearing. You know, when it’s not mandated, some people still are. You said you would feel naked without it. That’s a really interesting thought. Explore that a little bit.
Darcy Ropchan: It’s like your keys. When you leave the home, you kind of pat down your pocket to make sure you have your keys and your wallet and your phone, and the mask has just become one more thing for me now that I remember, I keep it on my door handle on my front door just so I never forget it when I walk out the door. And that’s after over 16 months that’s been ingrained in my brain to instinctually grab my mask as soon as I leave the door. Now that I don’t need it, it’s weird to forget it.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Do you think it will be something of a cultural issue as we go forward in terms of people who proudly refuse to do it and people who are, and I’ve heard other people say this, I do it as a sign to the people around me that I care about them and I’m protecting them because I don’t know if they’re vaccinated. What’s that dynamic going to be like in Alberta, which is, especially in the cities which are an equal split of Conservatives and Liberals.
Darcy Ropchan: I think as the years, weeks, months and years go on. I think that it’ll just become less and less and less and it won’t be such a political statement to wear or not wear a mask. I mean, obviously, COVID is still in the front of our minds. And so I think it’ll take maybe a year or two before masks aren’t really a part of society. I know, myself included, and some other people I’ve spoken to just in my personal life have said things like, I don’t like wearing a mask in the summer, but in the winter time I probably will wear one, A because it’s cold and B because that’s flu and cold season normally is the winter time.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: What are the stories that you’ll be looking to cover over the next few weeks as hopefully Albert is just Alberta again and not under restrictions.
Darcy Ropchan: Well, I’m excited to see live shows come back. I know the Fringe Festival here in Edmonton, which is one of our most popular and largest festivals. The Fringe Theater Festival has announced they’ll be back near the end of August. It’ll be a different looking festival, smaller, but again, it’s that sign that life is returning back to Edmonton. So I think I’m looking forward to hopefully covering Edmonton as a summer city because that is the best time to be in the city in terms of events and weather and stuff that’s going on.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Darcy, thank you so much for this. It was a pleasure to talk to you. It’s nice to hear from a place that has dropped the restrictions and I’m knocking on wood for you, but it’s been two weeks. Things are still looking good.
Darcy Ropchan: I hope they continue to trend downward and this is over sooner than later.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Darcy Ropchan of CityNews Edmonton. That was The Big Story, for more from us, head to thebigstorypodcast.ca, talk to us on Twitter at @TheBigStoryFPN, or email us, thebigstorypodcast, all one word, all lowercase, @rci.rogers.com [click here!]. And make your way to your favourite podcast player, you’re actually probably already there. You probably already do follow or subscribe or whatever to this podcast, but we want to make sure you help other people do it, too.
Thanks for listening. I’m Jordan Heath-Rawlings. We’ll talk tomorrow.
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