While other provinces in Canada are getting a handle on the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alberta is heading in the wrong direction.
The province reported more than 2,000 daily cases for three consecutive days last week, reaching the highest single-day total since the start of the pandemic on Saturday, at 2,433, with a positivity rate of 12 per cent. Over the past week, the daily positivity rate has been near or above 10 per cent in Alberta.
As of May 3, there were 658 people in hospital in Alberta as a result of COVID-19, with 154 of those individuals in intensive care.
Ontario, with roughly three times the population of Alberta, was the only province with more people in hospital due to the virus (1,925) than Alberta, while both Ontario (889) and British Columbia (176) had more individuals in ICU.
“We have the worst performance right now of every province and state in the United States and Canada,” Alberta’s former chief medical officer of health Dr. James Talbot said.
“We’re often comparable to B.C., but right now we have 300 per cent of the cases per day that B.C. is getting.
“B.C., Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec have all managed to take the third wave and start to bring the number of cases down, which means they’ll be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Talbot said.
As of May 2, B.C. had 9,425 active cases and the rate of COVID-19 was 78 per 100,000 population over the previous seven days.
There were 83,280 active cases in Canada and 22,920 of those were in Alberta, which represented 28 per cent of all active cases in the country as of May 2. Ontario was the only province with more active cases (37,200).
Over a seven-day period ending on May 2, the rate of COVID-19 in Alberta was 296 per 100,000 population, which was the highest in the country. The U.S. state that comes closest to Alberta’s COVID-19 case count in the same time frame is Michigan with 252 cases per 100,000 people over the seven days.
Ontario had the second-highest rate in Canada at 170 per 100,000 population, while the national average was 141 per 100,000.
In April, the province moved back to Step 1 of its COVID-19 plan, and last week, Kenney announced targeted measures for “hot spots,” including that junior and senior high school students would be returning to online learning for at least two weeks.
Following Saturday’s record high of COVID-19 cases, the premier announced Monday the province would announce additional restrictions Tuesday, although he did not provide details.
“I said last Thursday that if Albertans aren’t willing to do what’s right, even though it’s hard, then we will be forced to take further steps,” Kenney said. “Given the issues we’ve seen this weekend and the record high cases reported, we are developing a package of stronger public health measures, which I expect to announce tomorrow.”
Talbot said the measures implemented by the province prior to Tuesday were not enough, particularly with variants of concern, which now make up 63.8 per cent of active cases in the province, becoming the dominant strain of the coronavirus.
“We said when the new variant appeared in the province — because it was more transmissible — if the province continued to relax, as they were proposing to do, that we would see the new variant take off, that eventually it would become dominant and we would get a third wave,” Talbot said.
“We are well into a third wave and we’re not bringing it under control like other Canadian provinces are and the measures from three weeks ago are clearly not working.”
Increasing COVID-19 measures and fines
Talbot said Kenney needs to institute a lockdown to get the situation under control.
“There’s lots of things that we could do but we need to stop with these half measures and go to something that actually brings us under control,” he said.
“It’s interesting that the decision was made to put the legislature into lockdown so that MLAs could be protected but the government doesn’t think it’s necessary to protect the rest of Albertans.
“If you can’t wait for government — and you shouldn’t — then go into voluntary lockdown,” Talbot said.
“That means you can stay in your home, you can stay in your home with people who have been with you through that time period.”
Calgary emergency room physician Dr. Joe Vipond said the province needs to close non-essential stores, limit essential retail stores to 50 per cent capacity, close all schools across Alberta to in-person learning and have all Albertans who are able move to working from home.
“This is a big bad situation and these variants are really hard to deal with because they are so transmittable and they do cause more severe disease, so unless we do take radical action, we will be overwhelmed,” Vipond said.
On Monday, Alberta’s NDP called on the government to implement four measures including increasing fines significantly for those violating COVID-19 public health orders, developing a guideline on enforcement and streamlining court processes.
“It is clear that we are failing to enforce the current public health measures,” NDP leader Rachel Notley said. “The largest fine we can see levied against someone violating the public health orders to date was $1,500 handed out to the pastor at GraceLife Church.
“The largest ticket we have seen issued for a single violation is $1,200. I do not believe this is enough of a deterrent.”
The NDP wants current fines for individuals to increase to $3,600 and to create a fine for those who obstruct the enforcement of public health orders, such as harassing frontline workers when they are enforcing orders.
“What’s more, it’s been reported that many of these tickets are being dropped when challenged in court. Clearly, there is a problem,” Notley said.
“He (Kenney) is always happy to talk the the talk. Today, I call on him to walk the walk.”
The official Opposition also wants a new guideline from the solicitor general to police to “consistently and vigorously enforce the terms of the Public Health Act,” and transition all fines under the Public Health Act to the new administrative penalty process introduced in Bill 21.
Kenney said he has asked Justice Minister Kaycee Madu to look at the NDP’s recommendations and take them into consideration.
Also Monday, Kenney announced teachers, childcare workers and support staff will be able to book vaccine appointments.
Three weeks ago, Kenney resisted calls from the Alberta Teachers’ Association to give front-line staffers vaccine priority, saying the government will follow priorities tied to scientific evidence rather than “arbitrary pressure.”
Anti-lockdown, restriction events
Nevermind a lockdown, there are those Albertans who are opposed to any restrictions and have been vocal with their views with protests, rallies and blatantly disobeying the restrictions.
GraceLife Church west of Edmonton failed to comply with province’s measures throughout the pandemic before a fence went up around the church on April 7 at the direction of AHS.
On Saturday, a rodeo near the community of Bowden drew hundreds of people. The event was called the No More Lockdown Rodeo Rally.
Alberta Health Services sent a letter to organizers indicating the event would be illegal, but organizers proceeded with the rodeo.
Kenney released a statement on social media Sunday, stating his concerns:
“It is disturbing to see large numbers of people gathering this weekend at Bowden in flagrant violation of COVID-19 public health measures,” he tweeted.
“We are all sick of this. We all want it to end. Thousands of Albertans are following the rules, sacrificing travel and social gatherings to do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“Not only are gatherings like this a threat to public health, (but they are also) a slap in the face to everybody who is observing the rules to keep themselves and their fellow Albertans safe.”
Talbot said he is saddened to see events such as this weekend’s rodeo take place.
“I don’t know what other signal people want to see to suggest that they really need to pay attention to protecting themselves and the people they care about,” he said.
“The way things are going, we are going to continue to go up.”
Kenney has argued the primary issue with Alberta’s fight against the virus has been some Albertans refusing to follow the rules.
“For whatever reason, too many Albertans are ignoring the rules we currently have in place,” he said. “Let me emphasize that Alberta has essentially the same rules as our neighouring provinces of British Columbia and Saskatchewan. Their case counts are going down while ours are going up — this is incredibly frustrating for all of us.”
University of Alberta sociology professor Dr. Amy Kaler believes people who are already not following the rules will not change until there are consequences.
“We’re still hearing that people need to take individual responsibility, make good choices, smarten up and so forth, despite more than a year’s worth of evidence that, that is not going to get us out of this,” Kaler said.
COVID-19 triage document
Last week, Global News learned AHS was meeting with certain staff to discuss what to do and how to approach life-or-death decisions if COVID-19 patients overwhelm the system.
The invitation, which was shared with Global News, described the Alberta Critical Care Triage Framework as protocol to be used if “a dire situation” were to occur where “the demand for life-sustaining critical care support is greater than the available resources.”
The framework includes specific protocols for both adults and children.
“Any health care provider who has to make a decision based on this protocol is going to be making the worst decisions of their life, the ones that they are going to regret the most,” Talbot said.
“It’s insanity that a triage protocol that was developed for use during war would be used during peace time for something that we could prevent.”
On Tuesday night, AHS announced it was reducing surgery capacity in the Calgary, Edmonton and North zones as a way to prepare the health-care system to ensure it can meet demand. Additional ICU beds have already been added in the Edmonton and Calgary zones.