By Scott Zielsdorf

Businesses across Edmonton have begun reopening last week as part of stage 1 of Alberta’s multi-step relaunch strategy. Some may be wondering, does this mean things are returning to normal?

The answer to that question is a resounding “no – well yes…but not really.”

The government released a comprehensive outline describing the various phases of the reopening process, and steps are being taken to ensure a reduced spread of COVID-19 despite many establishments now opening once again.

The released information features a long list of various businesses and public areas that will be accessible once again; in short everything from clothing stores, farmer’s markets, barber shops and hairdressers, restaurants/bars, museums and some places of worship are all back on the outing menu.

Daycares, day camps and places of worship are also subjected to strict occupancy limits.

Many retailers and services are observing the use of masks and strict social distancing rules.

NAIT has announced that classes would be delivered virtually, with “limited in-person learning in labs and shops.” University of Alberta classes will also be offered primarily online. As it stands, MacEwan has not canceled in-person classes in the fall.

As part of the relaunch strategy, the government has also released a new contact tracing app, titled “ABTraceTogether”. The application was developed in collaboration with Alberta Health Services to track users movement and proximity in relation to others using the app.

Does that sound like a dystopian future from an 80’s sci-fi novel? Maybe a little, but it’s not all that bad. The app only stores information for a limited time and won’t send information to AHS without your permission. The app will work to trace potential exposures to the public if a user becomes infected with COVID-19.

Gatherings of 15 or more people are still not allowed (yes, that means no parties), with the exception of locations like work places and churches. It is still stressed that social distancing is a must in any place where people are regularly frequenting, especially now that many public places are accessible once again.

This isn’t necessarily an indication that things are returning to normal however, as restaurants are forced to reduce table service to 50% of their regular capacity. You still shouldn’t pull up to a bar with all your friends and fill up a corner table like the old days. Those days will come again eventually, but for the time being public safety actions remain a number one priority.

New updates are being posted regularly, and Alberta will likely find out whether or not step one is causing a new surge in cases in a week or two.

To keep up-to-date, check out alberta.ca/COVID19 or follow the ever-amazing Dr. Deena Hinshaw on Twitter for her regular Alberta pandemic summaries. You can find her with the tag @CMOH_Alberta.