May long weekend: What you can and can’t do in Alberta during COVID-19

As Victoria Day approaches and the province enters the first phase of its relaunch strategy, many Albertans are left wondering what this year’s May long weekend will look like amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

While residents are seeing some outdoor facilities and businesses beginning to reopen, many restrictions still remain in place for how Albertans can spend their three-day weekend.

Here’s a look at what people can and cannot do across the province amid the pandemic over the long weekend:

Can I visit provincial parks over May long?

In short, yes.

On May 1, the province opened vehicle access to parking lots and staging areas in provincial parks and public lands along with boat launches. However many facilities within these parks remain closed due to the pandemic, including some local businesses, washrooms and garbage pickup.

Some popular tourist areas are also asking the public to stay away this weekend despite the reopening.

On Wednesday, officials in both Banff and Lake Louise asked residents to avoid the area over the long weekend, noting that with limited available services, the town is not yet ready for visitors.

“We know that people may be eager to adventure this long weekend, but we are asking for some more time to work together as a community in order to welcome visitors again,” president of Banff and Lake Louise Tourism, Leslie Bruce, said.

“We want to protect this special place in the Rockies, and that means reopening when we can ensure our community and visitors can be kept as safe as possible.”

All Canadian national parks, historic sites and marine conservation areas remain closed for the May long weekend, with some sites set to reopen for partial use next month.

Can I go camping over the long weekend?

Yes, as long as physical distancing regulations are being followed.

In its initial relaunch plan, the province outlined that private and municipal campgrounds can open with physical distancing restrictions, under their own local authority, while Alberta Parks are looking to open on June 1.

On Friday, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, stressed the importance of adhering to the province’s mass gathering restriction over the long weekend if Albertans choose to take advantage of the outdoors.

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“For campers wishing to enjoy the outdoors this May long weekend, please remember that physical distancing and restrictions on groups of 15 or more still apply,” Hinshaw said.

Alberta Health Services also recommended that open campgrounds should limit their services to self-contained camping only, including water supply, holding tanks and personal washroom facilities like RVs and travel trailers.

The health authority also recommended that all shared washroom facilities should be closed, and group camping should be prohibited.

Can I visit my cabin or summer home this long weekend? 

Only if it’s within Alberta.

On Friday, Hinshaw reminded the public that travel outside of the province should not be explored just yet.

“I have heard from many Albertans hoping to travel to summer homes, cabins and cottages within Alberta. Responsible travel to these locations within the province is permissible with consideration to local community guidelines,” Hinshaw said.

On Thursday, the Canada Border Services Agency also sent out a reminder to citizens of the travel restrictions that remain in place across the country.

“With the upcoming Victoria Day long weekend and the warmer weather ahead, the CBSA is reminding all travellers that the travel restrictions announced in March are still in place at all of Canada’s international border crossings,” the release said.

Can I visit restaurants and stores in Alberta this weekend? 

Yes you can, but it’s advised that you stay close to home, instead of travelling to other cities and areas in the province when visiting restaurants and retailers.

On May 14, Phase 1 of the relaunch plan rolled out, allowing retail businesses, such as clothing, furniture and bookstores, to reopen gradually.

Hair salons, barbershops and daycares were also included in Phase 1, along with cafes and restaurants being allowed to open at half capacity.

However, in Calgary and Brooks, the reopening of those services will be delayed by 10 days, due to the larger number of COVID-19 cases in the two cities.

On Wednesday, Hinshaw noted that while services are reopening, residents should try to stay close to home when accessing them.

“Just the same as the rest of the province, what I’m suggesting is that if Calgarians are interested in having their hair cut, they may want to think about going to their typical barber when that opens in 10 days time rather than travelling outside the city for that kind of service,” Hinshaw said.

“There’s no legal restrictions on that. This is a recommendation.”

Can I participate in outdoor activities with family and friends? 

The provincial government is encouraging residents to spend time outdoors as long as residents are being smart about their decision, Environment Minister Jason Nixon said in an interview with 770 CHQR on Thursday.

“Come in and enjoy our parks, come in and enjoy the beautiful backyard that we have with your families and recreate, but be smart when you do that,” Nixon said.

“Family units and smaller groups enjoying campsites and recreating appropriately I think is healthy, and that is the message that we’re trying to send.”

Outdoor sports fields, golf courses and parks have also been reopened across the province.

As far as water sports go, officials are asking residents to be cautious as water testing in the province has been delayed due to the pandemic.

“Albertans should use lakes and beaches at their own risk and take precautions if they choose to enter water bodies,” Hinshaw said.

This includes checking for visible signs of blue-green algae blooms and following advice that may be posted at beach sites.

As the long weekend approaches, Nixon added that Albertans should exercise caution when leaving their homes, but should also enjoy their time outdoors.

“We’re moving away from stay home and self-isolate to just be smart,” he said. “We think we can start to move on with some level of normalcy in our lives.”

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