It has been two weeks since additional restrictions aimed at curbing the third wave of COVID-19 came into effect in Alberta, yet case numbers and hospitalizations have not dropped dramatically.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Friday that while tightening of restrictions may be needed in the future, there is nothing recommended to cabinet at this time.
“We don’t have any of those recommendations right now from Dr. Hinshaw,” Shandro said at an unrelated news conference in Calgary Friday morning.
“Broader measures, layered measures as we saw in December are a possibility but that’s going to depend on what the evidence shows. We don’t see that right now at this time.”
Alberta recorded 1,857 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, one of the highest daily case counts the province has ever seen. On Friday, 1,690 new cases were reported.
Hospitalizations, which health officials say are a lagging indicator, also continue to rise. As of Thursday, there were 518 people in hospital with COVID-19, 116 of whom were being treated in intensive care.
On Friday, that number spiked to 549 people in hospital province-wide.
Dr. Joe Vipond is an emergency room physician in Calgary. He said “the numbers are horrible.”
“This was totally preventable and predictable. Everybody knew this was coming. This is simple math. I’m not a math genius but I could see this coming weeks and weeks and weeks ago,” Vipond said.
He said the only thing that’s different from when restrictions were put in place in December, to curb the second wave of COVID-19, is a lower death rate and a slightly lower hospitalization rate.
“Our ICU numbers are horrible and our case rate is horrible,” Vipond said. “The sooner we act the better.”
Vipond worries that until Alberta sees “strong government policy” when it comes to additional restrictions, “nothing will make a difference.”
“This is a province-wide problem. This is a problem at all ages. So regional restrictions aren’t going to work and exempting schools from restrictions aren’t going to work,” he said.
Vipond believes everyone who can work from home should, all non-essential retail should be closed and all schools should be moved online “until we’re through this crisis.”
“We’re at the stage now where we need to pull out all the stops, which means going for broke as far as a full lockdown,” Vipond said.
With new daily cases and overall active case counts hovering close to where they were at the height of the second wave in December, Shandro was asked if the sacrifices Albertans made over the Christmas holidays were all for naught.
“We know that there are going to be waves and the waves are going to ebb and they’re going to flow,” he said.
“That’s not to say that previous restrictions and previous sacrifices were for nothing. It’s the exact opposite. They were very important measures and thank you to all the Albertans that have complied with those measures in November, December, January and up until now. Let’s remember that Albertans right now, there are sacrifices being made right now.
“It is making a difference and if they weren’t making that difference then we would see extraordinary growth in the variants right now in Alberta if we didn’t have folks complying.”
Another 1,184 variant cases of concern were identified Friday. Variants now make up 60.4 per cent of all active cases of COVID-19 in Alberta. Alberta also identified its first case of the B.1.617 variant Thursday, which is currently behind the sharp increase of cases happening in India.
“It was a race between the vaccines and the variants. The variants have won. We have tightened restrictions as a consequence of that,” the health minister said.
Shandro added that this spike in cases was expected.
“We knew that this was going to be the storm before the calm… as we went into a transition period as the vaccine rollout continued,” he said. “The people who are identifying as positive today, this is going back to the Easter long weekend.
“We knew that this was going to happen. We made it very public that even after we tightened restrictions, that we were going — for two or three weeks — to see continued increases in cases. This is the evidence that we’re looking and following.”
On Thursday, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Alberta’s COVID-19 numbers are concerning, and added the decision making around restrictions is complex.
“Final decisions have not been made about whether or not restrictions will be coming in.”
Hinshaw added that decisions on restrictions are made by elected officials, who are “appropriately the ones to make those decisions.”
“Conversations are ongoing, looking at all those factors that need to be weighed,” she explained.
“We certainly need to be responding as we are with as fast a vaccine rollout as we can have with the measures that we are putting in place, again, those that are province-wide that were put in place two weeks ago.”
Shandro said Alberta’s vaccine rollout continues to pick up speed, with fewer disruptions to supply now compared to earlier this year. He also noted there’s been a good uptake in the AstraZeneca vaccine in the last week, since it became available to Albertans 40 and older.
As of April 22, 1,3,19,837 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in the province and 260,231 Albertans had been fully vaccinated with two doses.
“We know as we have more vaccines going then the cases will reduce and as the cases reduce, the hospitalizations will reduce as well,” the health minister said.
“We might have concerning case growth, which we know would be a concern for us and our hospitalizations. So when we see that level of case growth that is concerning or certain areas where we think that tightening of restrictions might be able to stop that type of spread, we’re going to be getting that information and those recommendations to the emergency management cabinet committee at that time.”
Alberta’s COVID cabinet committee is scheduled to meet for its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday.
Hinshaw’s next in-person update on COVID-19 is scheduled for next week.