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Why are Albertans working while sick, and is enforcement the answer?

CALGARY (CityNews) – The exponential rise of COVID-19 cases in Alberta has the province’s top doctor increasingly worried, especially as those that are sick, are still working, shopping, and meeting while symptomatic.

“A further eight per cent visited retail or service businesses and eight per cent attended a social gathering,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

That data coming Thursday from Edmonton, the numbers not far off in Calgary.

WATCH: Contact tracing reaches limits as Alberta adds about 800 new cases

So why are people working and going out while sick, and will the enforcement of fines stop the behaviour?

“I think the question we have to ask ourselves is what pressures they are under to continue doing what they’re doing.”

Stefan Baral is a public health and family physician studying the inequities of the pandemic. He said enforcing COVID-19 could unfairly impact lower-income or marginalized communities.

“I think it’s not because they want to break the rules, it’s because they’re feeling pressures in different ways about their own basic needs and often of their families.”

Baral said, for example, those without stable living, can’t self-isolate in their own room, or those who need to work to support their families may not get paid sick leave and must work.

“A lot of the infections that are happening in people’s homes are related to unmet needs,” added Baral. “I think some of it may be related to education, I think a lot of it is related to desperation.”

The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit offers up to $500 per week to those who don’t receive paid sick leave, but union officials said that amount is not enough to pay the bills, it may not come soon enough, and the application process may present barriers.

Defiance in the pandemic has been documented including a mostly maskless gathering Wednesday in Winnipeg which exceeded the limit of five people.

However, Baral said, for the most part, there’s a social imbalance in truly staying safe from the virus.

“This response is really more of a nuisance for folks already on the margins, who live in multi-generational homes. The response feels best designed for those who are the richest.”

Baral said before we take the enforcement approach, officials should address gaps with resources and supports.