Our lives have been transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic and many Albertans yearn for a return to a semblance of normalcy.
Stringent public health measures have been essential to protecting Albertas, but it has come at a price.
Every aspect of our lives has been affected by the health crisis, but few have felt the painful sting of public health measures as keenly as our young people.
Youth have faced uncertainty for a year— They have experienced online learning, limited interactions with friends and most importantly a loss of team sports.
The lack of youth sports in the province is becoming a crisis, and the province is taking measured choices to rectify this loss.
Alberta began its four-step framework for the safe easement of COVID-19 public health measures Monday (Feb. 8).
Initially, the lives and activities of Alberta youth were not factored into the softening of health measures— But, in a surprise announcement Saturday (Feb. 6) the province said limited forms of youth sports would be able to take place.
It was a decision that was long overdue and will play a pivotal role in the mental health, social well-being and overall physical health of children in the province.
During Step One of the easements youth will be allowed to participate in lessons, practices and conditioning activities for indoor and outdoor team minor sports and athletics. Games will not be allowed.
A maximum of 10 individuals, including coaches, trainers and participants, can play, and all participants in these activities must be 18 years old or younger, excluding coaches or trainers. Players must be physically distanced from each other at all times, and masks are required at all times except when engaged in physical activity.
Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the province's decision to allow youth sports was made because of the lower risk of transmission in children. She noted the number of school-aged daily cases has continued to trend downwards since in-person learning once again began.
“There are many factors that are considered in these decisions such as the impact of current restrictions on children’s mental health and the important role physical activity plays in children’s development,” Hinshaw said. “This change was made to support the overall wellbeing of our young people, while still guarding against the spread of COVID-19."
There has been no indication that youth are major spreaders of COVID-19 and the current contact tracing in Alberta shows little signs of in-class transmission.
It is a Herculean challenge working to balance the dangers of COVID-19 with the needs of Albertan youths.
However, the province has an obligation to ensure youth in the province can experience some sense of normal life safely.
Sports play an important role in many children's lives. For many Albertan's their strongest memories of school will be hanging out with their sports team and experiencing the spirit of camaraderie and competition.
We need to collectively work together to protect the vulnerable from the virus, but children in the community are becoming collateral damage of COVID-19.
Steps need to be taken to help youth live as normal a life as possible right now— This can be done while balancing the safety of health measures.