As Alberta added an additional 1,240 cases of COVID-19 on Monday, and announced nine deaths connected to the disease, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said there are “positive signs” that the current restrictions are slowing the spread.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the 1,240 cases came from 18,306 completed tests, giving the province a positivity rate of 6.8 per cent.
“The positive signs that I mentioned on Friday have continued through the weekend, but our situation is still serious,” she said. “Our new case numbers are still extremely high and our health-care system remains under severe strain.”
There are now 795 people in hospital with COVID-19, with 151 in intensive care. Hinshaw said as Christmas approaches it is even more important to continue following the rules.
“This week we must redouble our efforts and celebrate this early trend downwards by continuing the actions that will eventually bring our hospitalization and ICU numbers low enough to support access to the system for all health-care needs.
“This week is another test for our province. This is usually a time for many to relax and celebrate, but we must not relax our guard or gather with friends and family outside our households.”
Alberta remains under the measures that were announced on Dec. 8, which include a ban on in-person social gatherings, including outdoors.
Hinshaw said that she hopes Albertans do not plan to gather for the holidays in spite of the restrictions.
“It’s disappointing to hear that people are planning to violate the public health orders,” Hinshaw said. “I think it unfortunately shows that not everyone understands the seriousness of COVID-19 and how quickly it can spread.”
She added that she hopes if people see others gathering through the holidays they should “remind each other that these protocols are in place for all of our protection.”
On Monday, Hinshaw also clarified the rules around outdoor recreation, saying Albertans can still participate in individual outdoor sports like skating but not in team sports like hockey.
“Skating or other outdoor activities can continue with up to 10 people, but all members of different households must stay two metres apart at all times,” she said.
Hinshaw said the R-value for the last seven days is now 0.92 in Alberta. Edmonton zone has an R-value of 0.89 and the R-value is 0.97 in Calgary zone.
New COVID-19 variant has not yet been detected in Alberta
Hinshaw also addressed the new variant of the virus that led to a Canadian suspension of all flights from the United Kingdom. The province also announced Monday that all travellers from the U.K. who arrived in Alberta over the last 14 days should isolate and be tested for COVID-19.
“At this time, this variant appears to be more easily transmitted from person to person,” Hinshaw said. “There is sufficient evidence to prompt action on this development.
“The measures we already have in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 work against this variant as well,” she said.
“This new strain is yet another reminder that we cannot let our guard down with COVID-19.”
She added there have been no cases of the new variant confirmed in Alberta or Canada.
“Of course we will be watching closely,” she said. “But at this point… there is no evidence that it has arrived.”
Hinshaw also addressed concerns over the vaccine rollout and how officials made their decisions on who will be vaccinated first. The first phase of vaccinations in Alberta has already begun, with a focus on health-care workers in hospitals and vulnerable seniors in care homes.
However, other frontline workers such as paramedics won’t be included in the first phase.
“The decisions about the first phase of vaccine were focused on individuals who were at the highest risk of severe outcomes, those who are in close contact with those individuals, and the groups within the health-care system where there is critical pressures,” she said.
Hinshaw added said the decisions around Phase 2 will not be made until early 2021.
“People who provide critical services — that’s not the only category for receipt of the vaccine,” she said. “Paramedics, like many other first responders or front-line workers, provide absolutely critical services and that has never been in question.”
She also said that “congregate settings” like correctional facilities and schools are also being looked at as target areas as the rollout continues.
There were nine deaths announced Monday, all of whom were senior citizens connected to outbreaks.
That brings the total number of COVID-19 fatalities in Alberta to 860.
Of the nine deaths, eight were in Edmonton zone.
In that zone, a woman in her 80s linked to the Hardisty Care Centre died, as well as a woman in her 90s linked to the Ventra Care Centre outbreak. Three men in their 80s died, one at the CapitalCare Dickinsfield outbreak, another at the Shepherd’s Care Kensington Village outbreak, and the third at the Royal Alexandra Hospital outbreak.
Also in Edmonton zone, two men in their 90s died: one at the Lifestyle Options – Whitemud care centre outbreak and the other at the Greater Edmonton Foundation Seniors Housing Beverly Place outbreak.
A man in his 70s at the Kiwanis Place Lodge outbreak in Edmonton zone also died. He was the only death announced Monday without confirmed comorbidities.
In other zones, a woman in her 90s at the Staywell Manor in Calgary zone also died.