Alberta Health reported 406 new COVID-19 cases and eight additional deaths from the disease on Saturday.
Of the eight new deaths, three were in the Edmonton zone: a man in his 30s without comorbidities, a woman in her 50s with comorbidities and a woman in her 80s with comorbidities.
In the Calgary zone, a man in his 50s with comorbidities and a man in his 70s with comorbidities died.
Three deaths were reported in the North zone, where a man in his 60s, a woman in her 70s and a man in his 70s, all with comorbidities, died.
Alberta has 8,474 active cases, 216,167 recoveries and 2,214 deaths.
As of Saturday, the Calgary zone has 3,459 active cases, the Edmonton zone has 2,239, the North zone has 1,254, the Central zone has 1,002 and the South zone has 518. There are two cases in unknown zones.
The new cases came from 6,882 tests, meaning a provincial positivity rate of six per cent, according to Alberta government spokesperson Brendan Procé.
Alberta Health said 478 people are in hospital, with 140 of them in intensive care.
Hospitalizations dropping below 500 people is one of the criteria to move into Stage 2 of the province’s “Open for Summer” plan. The first criteria was hit Friday when Alberta surpassed more than 60 per cent of the eligible population receiving at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
In a news release Saturday afternoon, the province said if the downward trend in hospitalizations continues, Stage 2 could start on June 10. Alberta Health said it will continue to monitor hospitalization trends over the next two weeks.
“This decline in the number of people in hospital due to COVID-19 shows that Albertans’ efforts to stick to guidelines and to get vaccinated are paying off,” Premier Jason Kenney said in a news release.
“As long as hospitalizations stay below 500, we will move into Stage 2 on June 10 and be one step closer to having an amazing and fully open Alberta summer.”
Continue to be cautious: doctor
Dr. Darren Markland, an intensive care doctor at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, said Saturday that it’s reassuring to see hospitalizations and ICU numbers coming down.
“We have seen that these health measures have worked very effectively, and in conjunction with rapid vaccination, we’re seeing hospital numbers diminish and ICU numbers coming back to reasonable levels,” Markland explained.
When asked his thoughts on the province’s reopening plan, Markland said he believes it needs a bit of tweaking.
“We’re moving quite quickly, and this reminds me a lot of what we saw right before we got hit by B.1.1.7 (the variant first identified in the U.K.) during the third wave,” he said.
“We’re using the same lagging indicators to figure out if our measures are being successful and the challenge with that is it’s a lot like driving with really sloppy steering. By the time you turn the wheel, the car starts moving right as you are careening off the side of the cliff. Hospital indicators happen about two weeks after surge happens, and we’re not even using ICU resources as a marker for this.
“If you just follow the natural course of the infectious cycle, two weeks is really not enough time to make good decisions about whether or not we need to reinforce some of the rules.”
Markland worries the plan is largely based on the population having a single dose of vaccine, rather than a double dose. He said some variant strains of the coronavirus have shown partial vaccine resistance, and without two doses of vaccine, “you’re not really that well protected from it.”
“You take a fast-spreading essentially airborne virus and then you subject the population that doesn’t have complete immunity to it and you will see a fourth wave. I guarantee it,” he said.
Markland is encouraged, though, by Alberta’s progress so far. He is impressed by the province’s vaccination uptake and said Alberta has a good supply of vaccines coming in.
He encourages Albertans to continue to be cautious as restrictions ease. He said sports like golf and cycling are very safe activities, adding that patios are reasonably safe. Where he’s a bit more hesitant is when it comes to larger events.
“We’re really focusing on the Stampede here and concerts… You take a bunch of people who are really excited to be out, add some alcohol, food and festivities and then a general crowd that may be a little more vaccine-hesitant than most other people who are going to do the right thing, and you set the stage for significant spreading events,” he said.
The province said 2,720,687 vaccine doses were administered as of May 28.
Once Alberta hits 70 per cent of the population with dual vaccinations, that’s where “we’re going to win it,” Markland said.
“I think we’re going to do quite well. I do suspect that we will have some events. We will handle them. The question is really just ICU resources, and I know I keep speaking about that because that’s where I live but that’s our most restrictive resource, so if you take a place, for example, like High Level, which has a low vaccine uptake, and somebody gets sick, they come into our hospitals in the city and they utilize ICU resources, which again are finite,” he said.
“If people just kind of keep doing the things they were with a little more relaxation, a little more outside time, we will be fine. We will get through this.”