Alberta officials say while there have recently been positive signs and trends in the province’s COVID-19 situation, it could all be lost if public health measures are not followed over the Thanksgiving long weekend.
Click here for Friday’s daily COVID-19 numbers
In a news conference Thursday afternoon, Premier Jason Kenney reminded Albertans that Thanksgiving 2020 spurred the start of the province’s second wave of COVID-19 last year.
“The second wave of COVID, which put severe pressure on our hospitals last fall, started very clearly around the family table of millions of Alberta households,” he said.
The premier and chief medical officer of health said there have been positive signs and trends when it comes to case numbers, hospitalizations and the overall positivity rate as of late. Active cases of COVID-19 have slowly started to decline, hovering at around 18,400 Thursday after hitting a peak of about 22,000.
While hospitalizations and ICU admissions remain highs, hospitalizations, cases and critical care patients have been either plateauing or receding slightly.
As of 11:15 a.m. Friday, there were 290 patients in intensive care across the province, the vast majority of whom are COVID positive, Alberta Health Services said. That’s a drop from 309 people in ICU on Thursday.
Provincial ICU capacity sat at 78 per cent Friday morning. Without additional surge spaces, provincial ICU capacity would be at 168 per cent.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw pointed out that Alberta has seen four straight days of a positivity rate below 10 per cent, sitting at 8.1 per cent Thursday.
“It is encouraging to see four days of positivity under 10 per cent but it much too early to declare victory,” Hinshaw said. “This weekend poses a significant risk.”
Alberta’s R value — also known as the reproduction number — has also come down to 0.731, according to new data released by the Public Health Agency of Canada Friday.
However, the premier stressed all progress could be lost if Albertans aren’t prudent with the health measures in place.
“That is good news but it is still very early and those gains are very tentative,” Kenney said.
“They could all be lost overnight this weekend if Albertans do not carefully follow the public health guidelines that we have put in place to protect our health-care system, which is still under severe stress. So I plead with Albertans not to read into some recent encouraging data, a licence to ignore the public health guidelines and restrictions that are in place.”
Gathering rules over Thanksgiving long weekend
Earlier this week, Alberta introduced new rules around gathering limits which reduced the limit on outdoor gatherings to 20 people from 200.
Indoor social gathering are not allowed for those who are eligible, but have not vaccinated against COVID-19. For those who have had their shots, the indoor gathering limit is 10 people — but from no more than two households.
Has COVID-19’s 4th wave peaked?
New COVID-19 modelling out of British Columbia Thursday suggests we may have hit the peak of the fourth wave.
The BC COVID-19 Modelling Group data shows measures introduced in mid-September have started to make a difference and that cases, hospital admissions and occupancy have all begun to decline.
However, the group said changes to testing and contact tracing in August “substantially reduced the fraction of infections being reported.” When new daily case counts were hovering around 1,600, it’s believed they were likely closer to 3,000.
While the group says it is good news Alberta is starting to see a downward trend, it comes with a warning.
“It’s far too early to consider relaxing any measures at this stage,” said Dean Karlen, with the BC COVID-19 Modelling Group.
“But at least there’s an encouraging sign that the peak has been reached.”
On Friday morning, Canada’s chief public health officer also said the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have levelled off across Canada. However, Dr. Theresa Tam also pointed out that progress hasn’t been even across Canada.
“Over the past month, lessons have been hard learned where measures were relaxed too much or too soon and especially where vaccination coverage remains low, providing further cautionary tales on the relentless behaviour and severe impacts of this virus.”
Alberta still has the highest rate of active cases out of all the provinces.
Tam also stressed that public health measures must be maintained “to see us safely through the respiratory infection season ahead.”
Are additional measures on the way in Alberta?
There have been calls in recent weeks for the province to implement a “firebreak” or short-term lockdown to help bring down cases and protect the health-care system. While Kenney did not definitively rule out the possibility of additional measures, he said the challenge is compliance.
“We think that the measures we’ve taken have been effective, thanks to Albertans responding positively. We will continue to monitor the situation very closely. If this turns around in the wrong direction, if there is widespread transmission over the Thanksgiving weekend and that trips us back into positive growth, we will certainly consider additional measures if they are necessary to prevent a worst-case scenario in the health-care system,” Kenney said.
“It’s obvious that those who have not yet been vaccinated are largely those who are least likely to comply with public health measures,” he added. “So when you talk about a quote ‘lockdown,’ it would effectively mean punishing the 85 per cent of adult Albertans who have done the right thing and got vaccinated.
“This is the real world challenge with which we are dealing.”
Friday's daily COVID-19 numbers
Alberta Health said Friday that 1,256 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the last 24 hours out of about 14,736 tests.
As of Friday, there were 1,101 people in hospital with COVID-19, 250 of whom were in ICU.
Sixteen COVID-19 deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours.
There are currently 17,839 active COVID-19 cases in Alberta.