Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Saturday, Feb. 6

The latest:

  • The Cargill meat-processing plant near High River, Alta., is facing a new outbreak. The plant was the site of the largest COVID-19 outbreak in Canada last year — with 950 staff and hundreds of their close contacts testing positive.
  • The new outbreak at Cargill currently has 11 cases, seven of which are active.
  • The province reported 348 additional cases of COVID-19 on Friday, compared with 396 new cases reported Friday. The testing positivity rate is 3.6 per cent.
  • Since reaching a peak on Dec. 7 of 1,767 new cases per day, the seven-day average of daily new cases has been declining. As of Feb. 4, the seven-day average was 414.57, roughly the level it was at in late October when the numbers had just started rising sharply.
  • Another 12 people have died, bringing the total number of deaths in the province to 1,705.
  • There were 6,266 active cases  in the province Saturday, inching down from 6,407 on Friday.
  • There were 457 people in hospital, including 84 in intensive care.
  • The provincewide R-value, which refers to the average number of people infected by each person with COVID-19, was 0.83. 
  • The province has now confirmed 78 cases of people infected with variants of the coronavirus that were first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa.
  • Hinshaw said Thursday two of the new variant cases potentially exposed two additional schools in the Calgary zone.
  • That brings the total number of variant cases at Calgary zone schools to four, each at a different school. All of the cases are travel-related.
  • Alberta has changed self-isolation rules for those infected with variants of COVID-19, and in some cases people may end up in quarantine for up to 24 days, Hinshaw said. 
  • The variants seem to have an infection rate that’s 40 to 70 per cent higher than the strain that’s been in Alberta so far. England and Ireland have seen the variant spread rapidly throughout their populations and the U.K.’s daily mortality rate is the highest it’s been since the start of the pandemic.
  • As of Saturday, 116,716 Albertans had received their first doses of the vaccine
  • Hinshaw said Thursday she has heard that some seniors in Alberta are getting phone calls telling them they can book vaccination appointments if they’re willing to pay fees. “This is not a legitimate claim, this is a scam,” she said.
  • Premier Jason Kenney took aim at conspiracy theorists in a live Facebook address Tuesday night, urging Albertans who have bought into misinformation about COVID-19 being a hoax or part of a global effort to impose some kind of socialist order upon the world to “wake up and smell the coffee” and look at the facts.
  • The Alberta government will provide a one-time infusion of $68.5 million to continuing-care operators, home-care providers and facilities that provide addiction and mental health treatment, to help them defray additional costs incurred because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

(Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

See the detailed regional breakdown:

Here is the detailed regional breakdown of active cases as of Saturday.

  • Calgary zone: 2,561, down from 2,598 reported on Friday (45,520 recovered).
  • Edmonton zone: 1,940, down from 2,041 (49,241 recovered).
  • North zone: 794, down from 809 (9,571 recovered).
  • South zone: 304, up from 303 (5,610 recovered). 
  • Central zone: 654, up from 642 (8,397 recovered).
  • Unknown: 13, down from 14 (106 recovered).

Find out which neighbourhoods or communities have the most cases, how hard people of different ages have been hit, the ages of people in hospital, how Alberta compares to other provinces and more in: Here are the latest COVID-19 statistics for Alberta — and what they mean

Here are the latest Alberta COVID-19 stories:


Alberta oilsands have seen more than 1,000 cases of COVID-19

Since the pandemic began, there have been more than 1,000 cases of COVID-19 linked to oilsands outbreaks in Alberta, including 120 cases diagnosed in other provinces.

Eleven of the outbreaks are still active, with 38 current cases.

Despite the numbers, industry officials aren’t raising alarms.

“The ratios [of infection] look to be quite similar to the general population,” said Perry Berkenpas, executive director of the Oil Sands Community Alliance.


More research needed on how vaccines affect variants

More research is needed to investigate the effectiveness of the vaccines on the virus variants, Hinshaw said.

The province has now confirmed a total of 68 cases of people infected with variants of the coronavirus that were first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

“We are actively reviewing the literature and experience around the globe to assess if additional measures are needed in school and other settings in the weeks ahead,” Hinshaw said Thursday.

A dump truck works near the Syncrude oilsands extraction facility near Fort McMurray, Alta. Since the pandemic began, there have been more than 1,000 cases of COVID-19 found in Alberta’s oilsands operations. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

“It’s important to remember that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are only a few months old, just like the variants. There is much we do not yet know, though researchers around the world are investigating,” she said.

“However, even against the variants, these vaccines still appear to be extremely effective at preventing severe cases, hospitalizations and deaths.”


Vaccine scam targets seniors

Hinshaw said she has heard that some seniors in Alberta are getting phone calls telling them they can book vaccination appointments if they’re willing to pay fees.

“This is not a legitimate claim, this is a scam,” she said. “Due to limited vaccine supply coming into the province, we are not yet able to offer the vaccine to all Albertans over the age of 75.

“When we do, the vaccine will be free of charge. Neither AHS nor any other community provider will ever be asking for payment for the vaccine. If you receive these calls, please hang up immediately and report to the non-emergency line of your local law enforcement.”


2 more Calgary zone schools report cases of variant

The number of cases of the coronavirus variant continues to grow in Alberta, including at Calgary zone schools, the province’s chief medical officer of health says.

Hinshaw said Thursday two of the new cases potentially exposed two additional schools in the Calgary zone.

That brings the total number of variant cases at Calgary zone schools to four, each at a different school. All of the cases are travel-related.

“As I mentioned in previous updates, these individuals did nothing wrong, and unfortunately the exposure was the result of an overlap in incubation and quarantine periods,” Hinshaw said.

Even as overall COVID-19 numbers continue to trend downward across Canada, health officials are increasingly concerned about the spread of two variants: one first detected in the U.K. and another in South Africa, which experts say could ‘rapidly’ change the situation in Canada. 2:05

A spokesperson with Alberta Health said the schools are not being identified at this time due to patient confidentiality. 

Scientists say the coronavirus variants are significantly more transmissible compared to the original strain. 

But when it comes to the schools identified earlier this week, Hinshaw said there has yet to be any spread detected within classes despite enhanced testing.

“However, with these two new schools, as before, it is important to know that anyone who may have been exposed was already quarantined after the initial COVID positive test,” she said. 

“We are now offering all close contacts the chance to get tested twice, as a precautionary measure.”


Alberta gym and fitness studio owners say they can’t survive ongoing restrictions

A coalition of Alberta gyms and fitness studios says government restrictions are hurting their businesses and argue the services they provide are part of the solution, rather than the problem. 

Under Alberta’s phased reopening plan, gyms and fitness studios can reopen on Monday, but under strict restrictions. Only one-on-one training is allowed and trainer-client pairs must stay three metres away from any other pairs.

The Alberta coalition of the Fitness Industry Council of Canada (FIC) says it represents almost 200 gyms and studios in the province.

It says more than 50 per cent of the facilities it has surveyed say they will not survive another two months of closure. The group argues gyms and fitness studios are safe and can help alleviate some of the mental and physical strains inflicted by the pandemic.

Scott Wildeman, the president of the FIC, said his organization is in direct talks with the government and appreciates the the difficult position it’s in.

He said it’s a positive step that the province has set benchmarks for when facilities could reopen. 

“But as it relates to fitness, we feel Stage One has missed the mark on a number of areas by simply limiting access to private training sessions,” said Wildeman.


Kenney takes on COVID-19 conspiracy theorists in Facebook ‘rant’

Premier Jason Kenney is urging Albertans who have bought into conspiracy theories about COVID-19 being a hoax or part of a global effort to impose some kind of socialist order upon the world to “wake up and smell the coffee” and look at the actual data.

The premier’s comments came during a Facebook Live question-and-answer session he hosted alongside Hinshaw on Tuesday night. He was responding to a viewer who asked: “Are you working with Trudeau and Klaus Schwab on ‘The Great Reset?'”

  • Hear more of what Kenney had to say about COVID-19 ‘denialism’ in the video below

Speaking Tuesday night during a Facebook Live Q&A, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney fought back against misinformation linking COVID-19 to a socialist conspiracy and urged people who indulge in such conspiracy theories to ‘deal with reality.’ 5:45

Kenney at first laughed at the question, but then appeared to get increasingly frustrated as he delivered a nearly nine-minute answer in a self-described “rant” against the people who promote pandemic-related conspiracy theories on social media. 

“When you’re sitting in my chair, you don’t have the luxury of indulging in all of this denialism, of trying to blame some globalist conspiracy,” the premier said.

“I’m sorry to go on a rant … but when you’re implying that our [COVID-19] response is because some socialist in Switzerland told me that he wanted me to shut down businesses in Alberta, folks, give your heads a shake. And please, deal with reality.”

Kenney said COVID-19 is not an imaginary illness invented by Schwab, a German engineer and economist who founded the World Economic Forum, which hosts a high-profile gathering of world leaders, economists, celebrities and businesspeople each year in Davos, Switzerland. 

“The Great Reset” is an idea proposed by Schwab for a broad set of policy reforms in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic “to revamp all aspects of our societies and economies, from education to social contracts and working conditions.”

The idea has been “interpreted as sinister, first by fringe conspiracy theory groups on social media, and then by prominent conservative commentators — prompting tens of thousands of interactions across Facebook and Twitter,” according to a BBC reality check on numerous COVID-19-related conspiracy theories around the world.


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