EDMONTON -- Alberta Health Services (AHS) will limit hospital access for visitors and those designated as support persons as the province undergoes a rise in COVID-19 and variant cases.

In an update to its website, AHS said it was making the “difficult decision” to limit access for designated support persons and visitors at their sites effective immediately.

“Due to case rates of COVID-19, community transmission and emerging COVID-19 variants of concern, Alberta Health Services (AHS) has made the difficult decision to limit access for designated support persons and visitors at our sites.”

No visitors will be able to enter AHS facilities unless they are someone who has received government approved compassionate exemptions, those with a scheduled visit to see an end-of-life patient, legal support, or a spiritual, faith, religious, leader.

In-person access for visiting or supporting patients will only be allowed for critical care, pediatrics, and neonatal intensive care unit for up to two designated support persons.

AHS defines a designated support person as someone who is a consistent individual identified by the patient as a needed support, is 14 years of age or older, cannot be on isolation or quarantine with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, and is someone the patient wants involved in their care.

Any visits made by designated support persons must be pre-booked and approved.

A designated support person can be a family member, hired caregiver, or close friend.

All end-of-life situations will have one designated support person and scheduled family or visitors permitted.

Ambulatory, emergency, or urgent care patients will be allowed one designated support person

AHS says anyone not officially designated as a support person is considered a visitor.

Patients, residents, family, and friends are encouraged by AHS to maintain contact but through virtual means.