The current COVID-19 restrictions will remain in place for now, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health announced on Thursday afternoon.
“Our cases are falling, but we still have the second highest active case rate per capita in Canada,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.
“We need to keep driving community transmission down. That is why it is essential that we keep the current conditions in place for a little while longer.”
On Jan. 7, Premier Jason Kenney said restrictions on things like indoor gatherings and in-person dining would be in effect until at least Jan. 21.
“We are not in the clear just yet,” Hinshaw said. “That is why no additional measures are being eased at this time.”
But she couldn’t say how long the extension would last, saying the province is watching hospitalizations and intensive care numbers before making that decision.
“Of course it’s encouraging to see the leading indicators of our case counts and our positivity rate going down, but ultimately, what is most important is that we make sure that our acute-care system is able to respond to all of our health needs,” Hinshaw said.
“To do that, we need to give it a bit more time, and the exact amount of time, again, it will really depend on how we all collectively work together to keep those numbers coming down.”
During her update, Hinshaw was asked about why restrictions on businesses can’t be eased in certain zones.
She pointed to a possible misconception that there are no cases and no impact in rural zones, but said there are “quite high numbers” in some rural places.
“I want to emphasize the fact that our health system is provincial and we do rely on that capacity, not in any one specific area, but across the province, and we do need to monitor that and make sure that we have enough capacity before we start opening up,” Hinshaw said.
“The worst thing would be that all of the sacrifices that have been made over the past several weeks, we would be squandering those by opening so quickly that our transmission rates would rebound.”
On Thursday, Hinshaw announced an additional 678 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in the province. That brings the total number of confirmed cases to 119,114. Of those, 107,358 have recovered.
There are currently 726 people in hospital and 119 of those people are in the ICU.
“To put this in perspective despite the progress we’ve made, there are just as many COVID patients in hospital as there were on Dec. 8, the day that our current restrictions were first announced,” Hinshaw said.
As the weekend approaches, Hinshaw urged Albertans to be “intentional and thoughtful” with outings and outdoor gatherings, saying it’s clear from the numbers that the restrictions are preventing people from being exposed and getting sick.
“The choices we make tomorrow, this weekend and over the coming weeks will help determine how the coming months look in our province.”
An additional 16 deaths were also announced.
Of those, 11 occurred in the Edmonton zone.
Seven of those deaths were linked to outbreaks. Two men and a woman in their 80s who were linked to the outbreak at Jubilee Lodge Nursing have died. As well, a woman in her 90s linked to the St. Michael’s Long-term Care Centre outbreak, a man in his 70s who was linked to the outbreak at Good Samaritan Southgate Centre, a woman in her 90s linked to the Summerwood Village Retirement Residence in Edmonton zone and a woman in her 70s who was linked to the Capital Care Lynwood outbreak have all died. According to Alberta Health, all of those cases included comorbidities.
Also in the Edmonton zone, two men in their 70s with unknown comorbidities have died, as well as a man in his 70s with known comorbidities. A man in his 80s with no known comorbidities has also died.
There were four deaths reported from the Calgary zone, with three of those linked to outbreaks.
A woman in her 90s who was linked to the Intercare Southwood Care Centre outbreak, a man in his 80s linked to the outbreak at Edgemont Retirement Residence and a woman in her 80s who was linked to the Bethany Airdrie have all died. All cases included comorbidities.
Alberta Health also reported a man in his 60s with unknown comorbidities died in the Calgary zone.
There was one death reported in the Central zone. A man in his 60s with unknown comorbidities has died.
“I extend my sympathies to all who are experiencing loss at this time, whether from COVID-19 or other cause,” Hinshaw said.
Alberta’s COVID-19 death toll now sits at 1,500.
There were 178 schools on alert on Thursday with outbreaks in four schools. In total, there were 282 total cases linked to those schools.
In-school transmission had occurred at 23 schools, but Hinshaw noted that with 20 of those instances, only one other person had caught the virus.
There were an average of 80 cases confirmed a day in school-aged children this week, Hinshaw said, compared to the average of 140 new cases a day in the same population the week before school started.
“Supporting students so they can be in class provides a great benefit to our society and to our children and it underscores the need to keep reducing community transmission to protect our schools.”