Case numbers have been consistently high in Alberta the last several weeks, and experts say the province appears to be in a transition period between waves of the novel coronavirus.
Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta, says the province had a clear first wave and there has been, overall, an increase in daily case numbers.
“I think it’s an uneasy time. It feels like it might be potentially the start of a second wave but I don’t think we are officially there yet,” she said.
Saxinger said it is fair to say that the province is in a transition period.
“We don’t really know what will happen in the fall. There is definitely the possibility, in some cases in the world, of seeing a second wave which looks like it’s going to outstrip the first epidemic that they experienced.
“Other places, it might be more of a grumbling, up-and-down pattern, depending on how the population reacts and tries to control the infection,” she said.
Paul Veugelers, an epidemiology professor at the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health, points to indications of a second wave in Europe, such as Spain and the United Kingdom, and the United States.
He said the province’s case numbers are on a higher plateau, which is worrisome.
“That’s what we don’t know at this point in time: are we on a trajectory of a full rebound or are we seeing a little elevation?” he said.
“I’m not overly worried for Alberta at this point in time. I believe Ontario and Quebec has more reason to be worried.
The numbers are rebounding more in those provinces than they are here.”
Saxinger said many of the new cases have been younger, healthier Albertans but if the trend continues, there could be unintended consequences.
“In other places, after some weeks of that pattern, occasionally we see stronger spillover into more vulnerable populations and in that case, we start to see the impact on our health-care system,” she said.
Dr. Stephanie Smith, the director of infection prevention and control at the University of Alberta Hospital, said a second wave will look quite different from the first.
“What we are seeing is a larger proportion of patients being identified in the community as positive, not necessarily needing hospitalization, but that could certainly change if we hit a critical level of community transmission because eventually it will trickle down to people that are at higher risk for more severe disease,” she said.
There are multiple outbreaks in acute care facilities in the province, including the QE2 Hospital in Grande Prairie, the Royal Alex in Edmonton and the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary.
“What’s stretching our hospitals right now is more around staffing and exposures and having all these staff people off work for such a long time,” said Smith.
Several schools are on the province’s watch list with dozens others on the outbreak list. Hundreds of students across the province are in self-isolation after positive cases were identified in their classrooms.
While other provinces, such as Ontario, B.C. and Quebec, have re-introduced restrictions, no extra measures are expected in Alberta.
“To date, we have not seen one single pattern that would be amenable to additional restrictions,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw on Monday.
The province has stressed staying home when sick, wearing masks if you cannot distance and limiting social circles this fall. It has also emphasized that what happens next with the virus in the province is in the hands of Albertans.