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Calgary, Edmonton mayors concerned with reopening as Alberta adds 355 new COVID-19 cases

WATCH ABOVE: Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates the COVID-19 situation in Alberta on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021.

As Alberta’s added 355 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday afternoon and an additional 10 deaths, both Calgary and Edmonton’s mayors are questioning the provincial reopening plan.

On Friday, the province announced the easing of some restrictions starting Feb. 8, including the reopening of restaurants for in-person dining and the reopening of gyms for one-on-one training.

“What I’m hearing from Edmontonians, including many restauranteurs, is very mixed reaction to these reopenings on this timeline,” Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said. “I think there’s still tremendous uncertainty, particularly given the new variants, about when and how it would be safe to reopen.”

The province has now confirmed a total of 51 cases of the U.K. and South African COVID-19 variants, which both spread at a faster rate than the initial strain of the virus. Of the 51, 44 are the U.K variant and seven are South African.

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Click to play video 'Alberta has recorded 51 cases of COVID-19 variants' Alberta has recorded 51 cases of COVID-19 variants
Alberta has recorded 51 cases of COVID-19 variants – Feb 1, 2021

Iveson added that the opening “seems premature from my perspective,” but admitted he doesn’t have full access to the data that Hinshaw and the Alberta government use to make their decision.

Read more: U.K. variant of COVID-19 ‘may have entered the broader community’ in Alberta: Shandro

In Calgary, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Monday that he was concerned about the reopening plan because the number of people in the province being tested has gone down significantly.

“We’ve seen three of our indicators go down, which is new infections, what we call the R (value) —  the number of people being infected by each person — and the positivity rate. But we’ve also seen our testing rate go down by about half,” Nenshi said.

“Do I need to at all be worried that those numbers are misleading because we’re not testing enough people?”

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Dr. Deena Hinshaw said in her daily update Monday that the 355 new cases came from 7,294 tests, resulting in a provincial positivity rate of around 4.9 per cent.

Click to play video '51 COVID-19 variant cases identified in Alberta' 51 COVID-19 variant cases identified in Alberta
51 COVID-19 variant cases identified in Alberta – Feb 1, 2021

Three weeks ago — on Sunday, Jan. 10, there were 12,302 tests performed on Jan. 9, resulting in a provincial positivity rate of 6.6 per cent. A month before that, Dec. 10, 2020 saw 16,800 tests were completed with a positivity rate of 9.5 per cent.

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Hinshaw said that the lower testing numbers may be due to less illness in general around the community.

“We have seen a dramatic decline in all kinds of respiratory viruses… that normally circulate this time of year,” Hinshaw said. “It could be there are fewer people who are symptomatic and therefore fewer going for testing.”

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She added that the lowering positivity rate is also a helpful metric.

“Whether we have over 10,000 or under 10,000 tests, that positivity rate is a reflection of how much disease is circulating within that group that’s getting tested,” Hinshaw explained.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Alberta identifies 355 COVID-19 cases, records 10 deaths on Monday' Coronavirus: Alberta identifies 355 COVID-19 cases, records 10 deaths on Monday
Coronavirus: Alberta identifies 355 COVID-19 cases, records 10 deaths on Monday – Feb 1, 2021

Nenshi said despite his concern, he remains “cautiously optimistic” that Albertans will continue following the rules amid the staggered reopening plan.

“It means doubling down on your mask wearing, your physical distance, your washing your hands, your staying home when you’re sick, because otherwise we won’t get [to the next stages],” Nenshi said.
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“And the worst thing in the world would be if we go backwards, because to say to these businesses, ‘You’ve got to open and then close again,’ is devastating. It’s totally unfair.”

Iveson added that despite some recent cases of rule-breaking, including a church near Edmonton that held a service Sunday despite an order from Alberta Health to close, generally city officials believe there is high compliance.

“The message needs to remain clear to everybody, that these orders are here not just to protect them, but to protect all of us and protect our health-care system from becoming overburdened the way it was last month and the month before,” Iveson said.

“So gathering in this way in defiance of these rules is actually irresponsible and potentially deadly.”

Iveson noted that in Edmonton, mask bylaw compliance sits at around 98 per cent.

“I’m proud of Edmontonians for taking the high road here,” he said. “We need to continue to do that. And our public health results and ultimately even the death count will show that we are taking this seriously. Because it is deadly serious.”

Click to play video 'Timeline to Alberta easing COVID-19 restrictions explained' Timeline to Alberta easing COVID-19 restrictions explained
Timeline to Alberta easing COVID-19 restrictions explained – Feb 1, 2021

‘Remain vigilant’ as restrictions ease: Hinshaw

Hinshaw said that despite the positive signs, she is cautioning that even as restrictions are set to lift, Albertans should remain vigilant.

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“The steady decline we’re seeing is encouraging, and a testament to the ongoing hard work of so many,” Hinshaw said.

There are now 556 people in hospital with COVID-19, 102 of whom are in intensive care. Active case numbers in Alberta sit at 7,387.

“While our cases and hospitalizations are trending down, we still have work to do,” she said.

“We have reached a place where we should be able to further ease measures on Feb. 8. But we have seen cases fall and rise before.

“We all must remain vigilant and be extra careful to help keep schools, continuing care facilities and all other settings safe.”

She noted that cases in school-aged Albertans are down — now at an average of 71 new cases per week in that age group, compared to an average of 131 in the week before students returned to in-person learning.

“So far, returning to school in-person has not caused increased spread in this age group,” Hinshaw said.

Read more: Alberta adds 461 COVID-19 cases, 8 deaths Sunday as active cases drop

A total of 1,649 Albertans have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Details on the most recent 10 people who were reported to have died Monday are located in the lower portion of this article.

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The province has now administered 106,347 doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

Click to play video 'Alberta identifies 12 more variant COVID-19 cases' Alberta identifies 12 more variant COVID-19 cases
Alberta identifies 12 more variant COVID-19 cases – Jan 29, 2021

Read more: Personal caution critical as Alberta set to ease COVID-19 restrictions: infectious disease expert

Monday death details

Alberta’s 10 deaths reported Monday included six seniors in care or supportive living.

In Edmonton zone, a man in his 80s at the outbreak at Villa Marguerite with pre-existing conditions died. A woman in her 80s with comorbidities at Jasper Place Continuing Care Centre also died.

Also in Edmonton zone, a man in his 70s with comorbidities connected to the Capital Care Dickinsfield outbreak died. A woman in her 90s, with conditions but not in care, also died.

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In North zone, a woman in her 60s, not connected to any outbreaks, died. A woman in her 80s with comorbidities at Prairie Lake Supportive Living also died.

In Calgary zone, two men in their 80s not in care died, one with comorbidities. A man in his 90s and a woman in her 80s, linked to the Carewest Colonel Belcher outbreak and both with comorbidities, also died.