With Alberta officially in its third wave of COVID-19, calls for continued reopening of the province persist.

Anxiety, family tension, and the lack of day-to-day structure are some leading factors of Alberta youths’ declining mental health.

Eating and substance abuse disorders, growing depression and thoughts of suicide have all increased with advancing social isolation.

In a Facebook townhall last week, Premier Jason Kenney acknowledged “worrisome signs” of youth spreading COVID-19 at elevated rates due to relaxations in extracurricular sports.

Timothy Holthe, a 15-year-old basketball player out of Glenwood, north of Cardston, said the government’s COVID-19 responses’ consequences have been tough on youth.

“It’s tough because we can only practice, but we can’t scrimmage or play games. On the developmental side of things, it holds our youth back,” said Holthe.

“I’m trying to find every way I can to get better despite the restrictions.”

With the federal government recently relaxing travel restrictions for major sports athletes, Holthe expressed his frustration over the lack of easing restrictions for youth sports and urged for a return to pre-pandemic conditions.

“If people have to wear masks in the stands, that’s fine, but the premier should ease restrictions outside of that,” he said, citing the downsides of the restrictions outweigh its positives.

“Extracurricular sports are one of those outlets for youth to socialize and exercise, and not having that at full capacity has been damaging for my generation.”

Holthe notes that no one in Alberta has died under 20 years of age because of COVID-19, a low-risk demographic.

“I feel we should be allowed to go and play even if it is somewhat limited in the short-term. It’s time for the province to let us play.”

Holthe launched a petition earlier in March urging the province to open youth sports fully.

“My family, friends, and teammates have been super supportive, signing and sharing the petition. It’s growing gradually, and it’s nice to see there’s support from across the province.”

He cautioned the premier to take into account the effects current restrictions have on the mental health of Albertans.

“We’re at higher risk of suicide and depression, which affects all ages, but having an outlet to open up to those your age group is crucial,” he said.

“That’s something we’ve lost during COVID because there’s a lot of community-building activities, like sports, which the government has pushed to the sidelines.

“Lives are at stake, and we need to take action now to protect those lives.”

Dhaliwal is a Western Standard reporter based in Edmonton

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