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9,000 more Alberta health-care workers to be vaccinated as 263 new COVID-19 cases identified

About 9,000 eligible health-care workers in Alberta who had their COVID-19 vaccination appointments postponed last month will soon be booked for appointments.

In a statement Tuesday, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said more doses of vaccine have started “to trickle in” after supply slowed down over the past few weeks. Now, Alberta will begin offering first-dose appointments to eligible health-care workers in Phase 1A of the vaccine rollout plan.

“In the coming days, Alberta Health Services will be reaching out to eligible health-care workers to rebook their vaccination appointments,” Shandro said. “Everyone who is eligible should be able to book a time to receive their dose in the coming weeks, pending vaccine supply.

“As the vaccine supply starts to increase, Alberta will be able to ramp-up distribution in the days and weeks ahead. We remain ready to get doses to Albertans as quickly as possible as they arrive in the province.”

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Shandro also said further information about how vaccines will be rolled out beyond Phase 1 will be announced “soon.”

Read more: Health law, policy experts criticize Alberta’s lack of Phase 2 COVID-19 vaccine plan

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said when it comes to who will be prioritized in Phase 2 of the vaccination rollout, it’s really important to remember that the goal right now is to prevent severe outcomes, hospitalizations and deaths from the disease.

“We are looking, as we have since Phase 1, at evidence around who is at highest risk of those severe outcomes to inform some of that sequencing. Final decisions have not yet been made.”

Hinshaw said details about when people are eligible and how they will receive their vaccines will also be announced in the coming weeks.

She said with limited supply of vaccine right now, people will not have a choice of which vaccine they receive.

“At the moment we do not offer a choice,” Hinshaw said. “People would have to accept the product that is available in the particular site where they’re receiving their vaccine.”

Hinshaw said as more vaccine supply becomes available, whether a choice will be available in the future has not yet been determined.

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As of Feb. 15, 149,138 doses of vaccine have been administered in Alberta. Hinshaw said more than 54,000 Albertans have been fully vaccinated with two doses.

Tuesday’s COVID-19 numbers in Alberta

Alberta recorded 263 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, along with nine additional deaths.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said the new cases came as a result of about 5,200 tests, putting the province’s positivity rate at about five per cent.

“This is an increase from where we have been in the past few weeks, which is concerning,” Hinshaw said, adding it is possible the increase may be due to changes in who went for testing over the long weekend.

She said Alberta Health will watch the numbers closely in the coming days to determine if this is a “concerning trend” or an isolated increase in positivity.

Read more: COVID-19 cases drop in Alberta as variant concern rises

There were 365 people in hospital with COVID-19 Tuesday, 56 of whom were being treated in intensive care.

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There were 4,993 active cases of COVID-19 across Alberta. So far, 122,554 people have recovered from COVID-19.

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From Friday to Monday, Alberta identified 50 additional variant cases of COVID-19. Hinshaw said all of the variant cases identified over the weekend were the B.1.1.7. variant, which was first discovered in the U.K.

“I know that many Albertans are concerned about these variants and I am too,” Hinshaw said. “I am particularly concerned about the growing number of cases not linked to travel, though many of these cases are the result of close contacts who we have identified through robust contact tracing.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta records 50 new cases of the U.K. COVID-19 variant' Alberta records 50 new cases of the U.K. COVID-19 variant
Alberta records 50 new cases of the U.K. COVID-19 variant – Feb 16, 2021

Hinshaw said about half of the variant cases identified prior to the weekend were linked to travel or a close contact of a traveller. The other half are either linked to the community where the source is unknown or someone who is a close contact of a community case. Hinshaw said investigations into this past weekend’s variant cases have not been completed.

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Alberta’s death toll from the coronavirus has now reached 1,791.

“While the number of COVID fatalities continue to trend down, these deaths are a painful reminder to all of us about the seriousness of this virus and the need to protect ourselves and each other from it,” Hinshaw said.

Of the nine deaths reported to Alberta Health Tuesday, five were in the Edmonton zone. A man in his 80s linked to the outbreak at Villa Marguerite, a woman in her 70s and a woman in her 90s linked to the outbreak at Laurel Heights Retirement Residence, a man in his 100s linked to the outbreak at Capital Care Lynnwood and a woman in her 90s linked to the outbreak at Extendicare Leduc all died. All of these deaths included comorbidities.

Two deaths occurred in the South zone: a man in his 80s linked the outbreak at The View at Lethbridge and a man in his 40. Both deaths included comorbidities.

Two deaths also occurred in the Calgary zone: a man in his 60s linked to the outbreak at Southwood Hospice and a woman in her 50s. Both deaths included comorbidities.

One week into Step 1 of Alberta’s ‘Path Forward’

It has been one week since Alberta eased some COVID-19 restrictions as part of Step 1 of “The Path Forward.”

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The eased restrictions included reopening restaurants to in-person dining, allowing for one-on-one indoor personal fitness training and some indoor children’s sports and performance activities.

Due to the two-week incubation period of the virus, Hinshaw said it can take up to two weeks to see the impact of any changes to restrictions.

“It is too soon, therefore, to say what effect those changes are having in the province. However, it is positive news that our hospitalizations have continued to decline since our peak at the end of December.”

Click to play video: '1 week since Alberta eased COVID-19 restrictions on dining and fitness' 1 week since Alberta eased COVID-19 restrictions on dining and fitness
1 week since Alberta eased COVID-19 restrictions on dining and fitness – Feb 16, 2021

Hinshaw said she’s received several questions about why indoor social gatherings will not be allowed until Step 3 of the province’s path forward.

“This is a natural question to ask, especially after not being able to spend time or recent holidays with our family and friends,” she said.

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READ MORE: Hinshaw urges caution as restrictions eased

However, the doctor noted that evidence has proven that it’s in these social get-togethers where we see the highest rates of transmission.

“We saw the start of our last spike following Thanksgiving, Halloween and the gatherings that went along with these holidays. Though it’s been incredibly difficult for many of us to not gather with our loved ones indoors, I believe this sacrifice has had the biggest impact on reducing spread in the province, relieving the pressure on our health-care system and getting us to the point we are at today.

“We cannot become complacent now, especially with the arrival of variants of concern in our province. Indoor social gatherings present too much of a risk at this point.

“Alberta still has a very high case rate and our numbers are still higher than they were before our second wave in November and December.”

On Oct. 17, Alberta had 2,890 active cases. Today, we have nearly 5,000, Hinshaw noted.

Click to play video: 'Indoor gatherings lead to highest COVID-19 transmission, pose too much of a risk right now: Hinshaw' Indoor gatherings lead to highest COVID-19 transmission, pose too much of a risk right now: Hinshaw
Indoor gatherings lead to highest COVID-19 transmission, pose too much of a risk right now: Hinshaw – Feb 16, 2021

“Four months later, with some of the strictest measures in place, we’re still working to reduce the ripple effects of our previous interactions.”

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With the weather warming up this weekend, Hinshaw reminded Albertans outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people are allowed with social distancing between households.

Red Deer Olymel plant shut down amid outbreak

Olymel announced Monday it has temporarily shut down its Red Deer pork plant amid an outbreak of COVID-19.

Alberta Health confirmed Tuesday it has been notified of 343 cases linked to the outbreak. Of those, 200 are active and 142 are recovered, according to Alberta Health. One person linked to the outbreak has died.

Read more: Olymel temporarily closes Alberta pork plant because of COVID-19 outbreak

Olymel said Monday that management no longer believes the plant can be operated safely and efficiently.

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