Premier Jason Kenney said Albertans can expect an update on COVID-19 health measures over the holidays on Tuesday.
Kenney was speaking in Calgary Friday, providing an update on the Cancer Centre project there.
He said the province would provide clear guidance for holiday gatherings at a COVID-19 update early next week.
“We’ll be very clear about the framework for public health next Tuesday,” Kenney said.
He pointed out the state of public health emergency is set to expire on Dec. 14.
“That’s why we think it’s the right time for us, potentially, to move forward with some modest, common-sense relaxation of measures for Christmas holidays.”
The premier stressed any possible rule changes must be done very carefully, especially with so much still not known about the Omicron variant of concern.
“We do expect there will be future waves. There will be a fifth wave at some point. We are already seeing in eastern North America, in other provinces, numbers start to pick up. This is inevitable. Respiratory viruses like this operate on cycles. They operate, driven in part by seasonality. So we can fully expect, I think, sometime in the winter for numbers to begin to track back up here.”
That’s why, Kenney explained, Alberta’s baseline numbers must be pushed down to “a satisfactory level for us to be able to proceed with relaxation.”
The downward trend of COVID-19 patients in ICU, while slow, is promising, Alberta’s top doctor said earlier this week.
“Even though our numbers have come down from their peak, when it comes to hospital and ICU capacity, we need to make sure we’re looking very closely at our system capacity, potential impacts if there were to be increased transmission from easing measures,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Tuesday.
“We hope, based on current trends, that by that time (Dec. 14), we will have reached… very close to our goal of getting down to 173 total intensive care admissions,” Kenney said Friday.
“That number is important because that allows us to go to 100 per cent of surgical capacity. We no longer have to set aside surgical beds, for example, for COVID patients, so we’re getting close.”
Hinshaw said Albertans should consider all the ways they can make any gatherings they’re planning to have as low risk as possible.
“Our acute care system has been under tremendous strain for a very long time now,” she explained.
“We need to make sure that any changes that are made to our public health framework are taking into account the possibility of combination of seasonal gatherings, the impact of seasonal transmission risks, the potential for some waning immunity — which is why we’re rolling out boosters — but that there could really be an impact from all these things coming together over the next month and we need to contemplate that as we try to weigh out all the risks and the benefits of changing the rules for gatherings.”
The premier said any possible changes will also take into account how likely Albertans are to follow the rules.
“How do we ensure that there’s widespread public buy-in to the measures?
“In my own family, I’ll be gathering with with three family members… We’re all fully vaccinated, come from three households — only four people — but we wouldn’t be able to do that Christmas based on the current rules.
“I don’t want to create a situation where we have millions of Albertans violating the rules when we’re not in a current emergency situation.
“That’s what we’re looking at. On Tuesday, we’ll be very clear and that information will be available next week.”
Daily COVID-19 numbers
On Friday, Alberta Health said 287 new cases of COVID-19 had been identified out of 9,139 tests in the last 24 hours.
There were 4,059 active COVID-19 cases across the province.
As of Friday, there were 367 Albertans in hospital with COVID-19, 71 of whom were being treated in intensive care. That is one less person in hospital from Thursday, and one additional person being treated in ICU from the day prior.
Of the 71 in ICU, 74.6 per cent are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, Hinshaw shared on Twitter.
One additional COVID-related death was reported to Alberta Health over the last 24 hours. The provincial death toll from the disease from the start of the pandemic remained at 3,272.