Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has twice mentioned a COVID-19 outbreak at a children’s birthday party this week, however there are no details about where exactly it took place, when it happened or how many infections are connected to this supposed “superspreader” event.
On Monday, the premier was asked about transmission in school-aged children at a news conference. He said the problem does not appear to be in-school transmission, but rather socializing.
“I was just briefed — we did have to suspend schools in Athabasca County, a couple of them, a few of them. Again, it was out of-of-school transmission. In one case, a bunch of kids from one of those schools were brought together by their parents for a birthday party and apparently the virus had a 100 per cent attack rate at that birthday party,” Kenney said.
“All the kids who came to that birthday party got sick and so it was social activities outside the school that led to that transmission.”
Kenney again mentioned the outbreak on Tuesday in response to a question about restrictions.
He said the County of Athabasca has nearly 2,400 cases per 100,000 population – what he called the largest local outbreak in a local area since the pandemic began in the province.
“Sadly, much of that was transmitted by kids, much of that coming out of a birthday party,” Kenney said.
“Now, the parents who hosted that birthday party undoubtedly did so because they love their kids and they wanted to give their kids a chance to have a normal birthday celebration and to socialize with their friends. Everyone can understand that – parents who are concerned about their children’s mental health.
“But the reality is by doing that, there was apparently a 100 per cent infection rate at that party that then went to parents’ homes then that went to co-workers. That’s then affected the whole community.”
Alberta Health told Global News on Wednesday that “no outbreak has been opened at a children’s birthday party in this community at this time.”
“However, identifying sources of exposure is complicated and transmission can occur from one person to another that does not meet the outbreak threshold,” said health spokesperson Tom McMillan.
The premier’s office then told Global News that the premier misspoke on the specific location of the party, but declined to answer detailed questions about where and when the event took place.
“The premier was using an example to illustrate a point of the serious nature of COVID-19 and ease of transmission,” said spokesperson Jerrica Goodwin.
Global News asked Alberta Health whether there is any record of an outbreak at a children’s birthday party anywhere in the province — the province has previously disclosed other outbreaks at private gatherings.
Alberta Health said it cannot comment on individual cases due to patient confidentiality.
“We report all outbreaks per the provincial reporting standards,” McMillan said.
“We have seen outbreaks linked to a wide variety of private gatherings, including parties. We never release identifying or specific information about a particular event, unless there is a broader public risk. Each outbreak is reported online at 10 or more cases.”
When further pressed, the premier’s office could not provide details about where the party took place, when it took place, when the outbreak was declared, whether any attendees ended up in hospital or ICU, how many infections are linked to it or what the breakdown was between adults and children.
“The premier was using an example of an event health officials briefed him on to illustrate a point of the serious nature of COVID-19 and ease of transmission,” Goodwin said in a second statement to Global News.
In response to whether a briefing took place, Alberta Health directed inquiries to the premier’s office and said it could not comment.
On Thursday, 1,646 new COVID-19 cases were reported and there were five new deaths. The province has banned indoor gatherings, saying they are a significant source of spread, and outdoor gatherings have a limit of 10 people.
Last week, Alberta moved back to Step 1 of its reopening plan due to climbing case numbers and concerns over added stress to the healthcare system.
Alberta has also seen a rise in variants of concern, which, as of Thursday, make up 54 per cent of active cases in the province.
Infectious disease specialists say variants have a higher transmissibility, and last Thursday Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the B.1.1.7. variant, which was first discovered in the U.K., seems to cause more severe illness than the original strain of COVID-19.