COVID-19 is surging in Alberta, but experts say other provinces shouldn’t worry yet

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 resurges in BC, Alberta, prompting fears of 4th wave'
COVID-19 resurges in BC, Alberta, prompting fears of 4th wave
WATCH: Rising cases of COVID-19 in Alberta and British Columbia are fuelling fears of a fourth wave. Heather Yourex-West reports on where the virus has been spreading, which province is further relaxing restrictions, and which jurisdiction is doing an about-face on masks – Jul 28, 2021

Cases of COVID-19 are surging in Alberta.

Over the course of the last two weeks, officials reported more than 749 infections. Meanwhile, Alberta health authorities confirmed 71 new cases of the virus linked directly to the Calgary Stampede, although the province’s former top doctor says that may be an underestimate.

For now, experts say the surge is expected and is no cause for alarm.

“I certainly expected to see some uptick in cases when we reopened,” said Dr. Jia Hu, a public health physician advising the Stampede. “I think the question is what the magnitude will be.”

More than 5.2 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Alberta, according to the most recently available provincial data.

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As of Monday, the province confirmed more than 75 per cent of residents aged 12 and older had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while just under 64 per cent of eligible Albertans had been fully vaccinated with two doses.

Click to play video: 'No more masks on  transit, isolation of positive COVID-19 cases come Aug. 16 in Alberta'
No more masks on transit, isolation of positive COVID-19 cases come Aug. 16 in Alberta

Alberta put an end to all public health measures on July 1, shortly after more than 70 per cent of eligible Albertans had been administered their first shot, reaching its threshold for Stage 3 of its reopening plan.

“We’re in a situation now where there’s no capacity limits, there’s indoor gatherings, there’s large events going on,” said Dr. Stephanie Smith, a professor at the University of Alberta’s Division of Infectious Diseases.

“All of those things result in more human interaction and the potential for spread of COVID and that’s really what we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks.”

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But should other provinces be walking back their reopening plans?

Probably not, although Smith said more “gradual” reopenings that include masks and avoiding crowded indoor spaces were advised.

She noted that Canada’s high vaccination record, which currently boasts almost 80 per cent of Canadians aged 12 and up with at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and more than 50 per cent of the total population fully vaccinated, is also working in the country’s favour.

“We do have a significant proportion of the population vaccinated,” she said. “That will reduce the risk of severe disease even if people do get infected and will presumably mitigate the impact on the health-care system.”

Dr. Eric Arts, Canada Research Chair in HIV Pathogenesis and Viral Control at Western University, said at the full impact of the Delta variant wasn’t yet known at the time of Alberta’s reopening.

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In order to avoid another lockdown in an effort to curb the variant’s spread, he said Canada needs to do “as much surveillance as possible” on variables that contribute to our exposure to the variants, like people coming into the country or on waste water.

Click to play video: 'B.C. officials announce Central Okanagan restrictions following COVID-19 surge'
B.C. officials announce Central Okanagan restrictions following COVID-19 surge

British Columbia, too, is seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases. On Tuesday, the province recorded 150 cases, increasing the number of active cases in B.C. by 88 from Monday to 783 active cases.

But Dr. Brian Conway, medical director at the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, said bumps in new cases “were predicted” as Canadians increase their level of contact and begin travelling again, but noted that “we should be in a position to identify cases, quickly, identify and interrupt transmission networks.”

Conway said the country was well-positioned to dodge an incoming fourth wave, as more Canadians get vaccinated.

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“Obviously, if a large number of new cases are introduced into the province, into the country, especially if they are numerous contagious variants, this could lead to some setbacks, which I think would be temporary,” he said.

“We have a public health infrastructure that’s robust, that is insightful, and that is very able to intervene to deal with these types of situations.”

Conway also advised against comparing Canada to other Western countries such as the United States.

“We’re not at all in the same situation as, say, the United States, where they are stalled at 50 per cent vaccination levels, which leaves a very large portion of the population unvaccinated and susceptible to the variants,” he added.

In the U.S., 57.1 per cent of eligible Americans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while just under 50 per cent are fully vaccinated, according to the latest data from the country’s Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.

Although Canada has surpassed the U.S. vaccination record, Conway urged Canadians to avoid becoming complacent.

“We will be living with endemic COVID, with COVID in our environment,” he said, adding that the country would do well to use three tools:

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“No. 1, get vaccinated. No. 2, really try our best to follow reasonable public health recommendations going forward in terms of what we will be asked to do in various settings. And third, to be respectful.”

–With files from Heather Yourex-West, Global News, Kirby Bourne, 630 CHED, and The Canadian Press

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