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1,270 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed Wednesday as Hinshaw pushes for Albertans to accept vaccine

Click to play video: 'Dr. Deena Hinshaw addresses COVID-19 safety concerns and anxiety' Dr. Deena Hinshaw addresses COVID-19 safety concerns and anxiety
WATCH ABOVE: Alberta's chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw addressed some of the safety concerns people may have with the COVID-19 vaccine, saying Canada has one of the most robust regulatory systems in the world and no steps were skipped. – Dec 16, 2020

Dr. Deena Hinshaw took Wednesday’s COVID-19 update as an opportunity to encourage Albertans to take the vaccine when it becomes more widely available.

At the news conference, where 1,270 additional cases of COVID-19 and 16 additional deaths were announced, the province’s chief medical officer of health said that she knows many people have “anxiety and questions” over the vaccine.

“It’s incredible to think that within a year of the virus being discovered, we already have a vaccine that is 95 per cent effective,” Hinshaw said.

Alberta began vaccinations Tuesday, with health-care workers in Edmonton and Calgary being the first to receive the Pfizer vaccine.

The initial shipment was 3,900 doses, with the province expecting to receive another 25,300 doses of the Pfizer vaccine within the next week and a shipment of the Moderna vaccine in “another week or so,” Premier Jason Kenney said.

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Read more: Alberta health-care workers receive province’s 1st COVID-19 vaccines Tuesday

Hinshaw encouraged all Albertans to be ready to get the vaccine when it is widely distributed and added that Canada has a “robust” testing and scrutiny program for all new vaccines.

“The ingredients inside it are only those needed to keep the vaccine stable and safe,” Hinshaw said. “Because this is a new vaccine, we will also be watching closely. Alberta will be working with all the other provinces and territories and the Public Health Agency of Canada to closely monitor for adverse effects.

“This vaccine will save lives. There is overwhelming scientific evidence that vaccination is the best defence against serious infections. When it is your turn, please get immunized.”

The first phase of the vaccinations, expected to be completed through the first quarter of 2021, targets those at highest risk: health-care workers, staff and seniors in care homes, and people over 75.

Hinshaw said Phase 2 would include priority groups who are more of the first responders and other frontline professionals — in April of 2021.

“We don’t know yet exactly how much vaccine we’ll have,” Hinshaw said. “As more vaccine is available and as potentially new vaccines are licensed we may be able to shift those dates.”

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She added health officials will further discuss the targets for Phase 2 in the new year.

Click to play video: 'What about teachers and front-line workers? Hinshaw addresses priority list for COVID-19 vaccination in Alberta' What about teachers and front-line workers? Hinshaw addresses priority list for COVID-19 vaccination in Alberta
What about teachers and front-line workers? Hinshaw addresses priority list for COVID-19 vaccination in Alberta – Dec 16, 2020

Hinshaw said that Wednesday’s numbers come from 17,569 tests completed, meaning the positivity rate in Alberta is now at 7.3 per cent.

There are currently 749 people in hospital, including 139 in the ICU. The majority of those hospitalized patients are in the Edmonton zone, with 418 people in that zone needing in-patient care.

Click to play video: 'Butterdome being turned into alternate hospital as Alberta records 1,270 new COVID-19 cases' Butterdome being turned into alternate hospital as Alberta records 1,270 new COVID-19 cases
Butterdome being turned into alternate hospital as Alberta records 1,270 new COVID-19 cases – Dec 16, 2020

Hinshaw said that the province is working with the Red Cross to create an alternate care centre at the Butterdome on the University of Alberta campus.

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She said the centre will take a “few weeks” to set up and will have about 100 beds available. However, she said it won’t be staffed unless it is needed.

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“This is a purely precautionary measure for use if needed in the future,” Hinshaw said.

Read more: Butterdome to become COVID-19 secondary treatment facility to keep patients out of ERs

A similar alternate care centre has been set up at the Peter Lougheed Centre in Calgary.

Deaths announced Wednesday

The 16 deaths announced Wednesday were all senior citizens, with 10 of them in the Edmonton zone.

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Hinshaw said new deaths, which bring the provincial fatality total to 760, should be a reminder to all Albertans on why there is a need to stop the spread.

“It is a sobering statistic, that in less than 10 months, more Albertans have now died from COVID-19 than have died from influenza in the last 10 years combined,” Hinshaw said.

In the Edmonton zone, four women in their 80s — one with cormorbidities related to the outbreak at the Good Samaritan Pembina Village, one linked to an outbreak at the McConachie Gardens Retirement Living, one linked to an outbreak at the Devonshire Village care centre and another at the Chinese Seniors Lodge — all died.

A woman in her 90s linked to the outbreak at Edmonton’s Chinese Seniors Lodge also died.

A woman in her 70s in the Edmonton zone, not connected to any outbreaks, also died.

Three men at care homes in the Edmonton zone also died. Those deaths include a man in his 90s linked to the outbreak at Venta Care Centre, a man in his 80s linked to an outbreak at Discovery Place — The Heights care centre and a man in his 70s linked to the Capital Care Dickinsfield outbreak.

A man in his 90s not connected to any outbreaks also died.

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In the Calgary zone, a man in his 80s not connected to any outbreaks died. Two men in their 90s at care homes died, one with comorbidities and whose death was linked to the Amica Britannia outbreak, and the other at the Carewest George Boyack care centre.

A Calgary zone woman in her 60s with cormorbidities linked to the Bethany outbreak also died.

In other zones, a woman in her 80s and who had pre-existing conditions, died at Jasper Alpine Summit Seniors Lodge in the North zone. A man in his 80s in the Central zone also died.

Read more: Alberta expanding free self-isolation hotel program, sending COVID-19 care teams to hard-hit communities

Young Albertans

Hinshaw also reminded younger people in the province that they are still vulnerable to the virus and they should not be holding gatherings or interacting with one another.

“In Alberta to date, more than 32,000 people between the ages of 20 and 39 have contracted COVID-19,” Hinshaw said. “More than 380 of them have been hospitalized, and sadly eight of these have died.

“This virus does not discriminate. And it can have long-term and potentially devastating impacts on all of our health. No one of any age can take COVID-19 lightly.”

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Click to play video: 'Dr. Hinshaw reminds young Albertans they are not immune to COVID-19' Dr. Hinshaw reminds young Albertans they are not immune to COVID-19
Dr. Hinshaw reminds young Albertans they are not immune to COVID-19 – Dec 16, 2020

AHS hires more contact tracers

On Wednesday, Alberta Health Services confirmed to Global News it had recently hired 400 new staff to support contact-tracing efforts in the province.

That brings the current total to 1,100.

Before the pandemic, AHS had 50 contact tracers on staff. In July, that number was increased to 300 and in September it increased again to 700.

The agency said it plans to hire 500 more by the end of the year to reach a total of 1,600.

“AHS has continued to enhance our contact-tracing teams to meet demand,” AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson said in an email Wednesday.

“We are rapidly increasing our response to the unprecedented volume of COVID-19 cases in the province.”

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The province remains under strict restrictions meant to curb the spread of the virus, including a 15 per cent capacity limit for retail and grocery stores, as well as places of worship.

All restaurants, bars, pubs and cafes have closed in-person dining but can still offer takeout. All entertainment venues, recreation facilities, casinos, personal and wellness services have also closed.

Click to play video: 'Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announces details of new COVID-19 outreach campaign' Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announces details of new COVID-19 outreach campaign
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announces details of new COVID-19 outreach campaign – Dec 15, 2020

Masks are now mandatory in all indoor public spaces and workplaces across the province, with the exception of farm operations and rental accommodations.

All indoor and outdoor social gatherings are also banned.

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