Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Wednesday, Feb. 17

The latest:

  • Alberta reported 263 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, compared with 251 new cases reported Monday.
  • There were 4,993 active cases on Tuesday, down from 5,222 the previous day.
  • The testing positivity rate is 5 per cent, up from 4.6 per cent the previous day.
  • Nine more people have died, bringing the total number of deaths in the province to 1,791.
  • There are 356 people in hospital as of Tuesday, including 56 in intensive care.
  • The provincewide R-value, which refers to the average number of people infected by each person with the virus, was 0.85, which did not change from the previous day. 
  • As of Tuesday, the province has confirmed a total of 221 cases of people infected with the coronavirus variants — 214 of the strain first identified in the U.K. and seven of the strain first identified in South Africa.
  • Roughly half of the cases that have been fully investigated have been found to be linked to travel. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, says that’s a concern because it means the other half are considered community acquired — and a third of them have an unknown source.
  • As of Monday, 149,138 doses of the vaccine had been administered. There are now approximately 54,024 Albertans who are fully immunized after receiving both doses.
  • Hinshaw said Tuesday she has been hearing a lot of questions around capacity limits at restaurants. She explained that, unlike other public settings, such as retail stores, Alberta has not implemented specific capacity limits on restaurants, bars and lounges.
  • Instead, the province has put in place physical-distancing rules that require a minimum of two-metres between tables. “In addition, we have limited the number of people in a dining party who can be seated at the same table to a maximum of six. And these must be members of the same household or an individual living alone with their two contacts.” 
  • Hinshaw is set to provide her next update on Wednesday at 4 p.m.
  • The Olymel slaughterhouse plant in Red Deer will temporarily shut down due to a rapidly growing COVID-19 outbreak at the facility, the company said Monday. 
  • Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said Tuesday the province chose not to shut down the slaughterhouse because for months the company had been successfully managing the outbreak. 
  • Darwin Doloque, 35, died of COVID-19 on Jan. 28 after contracting the virus in the outbreak at the slaughterhouse.
  • As of Monday, 326 employees at the plant had tested positive for COVID-19, nearly double the count of 168 on Feb. 6. Of those, 192 remain active. 
  • Labour leaders gathered outside the plant Wednesday morning to draw attention to the issue of worker safety. “The province is on notice that we expect them to do more to keep workers safe in facilities like this and in other facilities across the province,” said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
  • Calgary police say a video showing an officer shaking the hand of an unmasked, anti-mask protester on Saturday captured the end of a peaceful negotiation — with no day-of enforcement despite a number of people breaking Public Health Act rules.
  • The incident happened as dozens of unmasked protesters walked through Chinook Centre to protest public health restrictions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 
  • Some experts fear a continued lack of consequences for some protesting essential measures could cripple the province’s pandemic response. “That sends a message to the community that these rules aren’t important, that perhaps we are safe without following these rules and we’re not,” said Dr. Tehseen Ladha, an assistant professor in pediatrics at the University of Alberta.
  • Air travellers landing in Canada will have to quarantine in a hotel, at their own expense, starting Feb. 22 for up to 72 hours, according to government sources who spoke with CBC News, with an announcement expected later Friday. Last month, the federal government announced air travellers returning from non-essential trips abroad will have to isolate in a federally mandated facility for up to three days while they await the results of a polymerase chain reaction test, commonly known as a PCR test, at an estimated cost of up to $2,000.
  • The hotel stay would be part of the mandatory 14-day quarantine period for returning non-essential travellers. 
  • The tighter federal restrictions and the growing spread of more highly contagious variant strains of coronavirus in other parts of the world, prompted the Alberta government to say Thursday that it would suspend the border testing pilot at the Calgary airport when the new requirements come into effect.
  • Starting Monday, all travellers arriving at land border crossings are required to show proof of a negative PCR test completed in the United States within the previous 72 hours — in line with new federal rules.
  • Border officers can’t legally deny entry to Canadians, but those who show up without proof of a test could face fines of up to $3,000.

(Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

See the detailed regional breakdown:

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

  • Calgary zone: 1,887, down from 1,989 reported on Monday (47,245 recovered).
  • Edmonton zone: 1,333, down from 1,435 (50,507 recovered).
  • North zone: 737, down from 753 (10,076 recovered).
  • South zone: 344, up from 330 (5,811 recovered). 
  • Central zone: 679, down from 706 (8,811 recovered).
  • Unknown: 13, up from 9 (104 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’s increase in COVID-19 variants points to need for asymptomatic testing, Calgary doctor says

The number of coronavirus variant cases confirmed in Alberta has reached 221, and roughly half of the cases that have been fully investigated have been found to be linked to travel.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said at a press conference on Tuesday that she’s particularly concerned about the growing number of cases that are not linked to travel.

She says those cases are considered community acquired and that a third of them have an unknown source.

Dr. Vanessa Meier-Stephenson, an infectious disease physician with the University of Calgary, says she fully expects there are cases of the variant they’re not detecting.

“When we start seeing some of the transmission in the community and when we’re seeing transmission that we can’t link back to a specific source, it does raise increasing concerns around how this is spreading in the community,” she said.

Meier-Stephenson says there are still many questions about the variants including how long people are infectious.

“Our government and our public health officials are doing what they can to kind of develop plans around this. But sometimes with a lot of these unknowns entering into the equation, it does make it more challenging for them to make informed decisions, such as opening up various facilities and steps,” she said.

This is why Meier-Stephenson says she would like to see a return to more widespread asymptomatic testing — something the province cancelled in the fall.

For more, see: Alberta’s increase in COVID-19 variants points to need for asymptomatic testing, Calgary doctor says 


Alberta didn’t shut down slaughterhouse because it had been ‘successful’ in managing outbreak

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health says the province chose not to shut down a slaughterhouse after weeks of growing cases and one worker death, because for months the company had been successfully managing the outbreak. 

On Monday, Quebec-based Olymel voluntarily closed its Red Deer, Alta., pork processing plant. It said that due to the growing outbreak it could no longer manage operations in a safe and efficient manner. It was an abrupt change of position, telling CBC News hours earlier it had planned to remain open.

Alberta Health Services and Occupational Health and Safety were not involved in that decision, and both had approved the plant to continue operating.

As of Tuesday, there were 343 cases of COVID-19 linked to the current outbreak, 200 of which were active.

Darwin Doloque, 35, died after contracting COVID-19 through his work at the Olymel pork plant in Red Deer, Alta. (GoFundMe, CBC)

On Jan. 28 — more than two weeks ago — Darwin Doloque, a 35-year-old employee at the plant, died of COVID-19 linked to the workplace outbreak.

“It’s important to remember this particular plant has had sporadic cases, one or two at a time, for several months, and the processes that had been put in place at the plant site had been very successful in reducing spread,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said Tuesday.

For more, see: Alberta didn’t shut down slaughterhouse because it had been ‘successful’ in managing outbreak


One week after restrictions eased, Alberta reports 263 new COVID-19 cases

Alberta eased some restrictions a week ago, but it’s too early to say what impact those changes are having, said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health.

Evidence shows that social gatherings are responsible the highest rates of transmission, she said, noting the province saw its last spikes following Thanksgiving and Halloween holiday season get-togethers.

“This sacrifice [the restriction on gatherings] has had the biggest impact on reducing spread in the province, relieving the pressure on the health-care system and getting us to the point that we are at today,” Hinshaw said.

“We cannot become complacent now, especially with the arrival of variants of concern in our province.”

One week after some restrictions were eased in Alberta, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer, explains that with the incubation period of COVID-19, it is too soon to see the impacts of those changes. 3:25

Provincial labs completed 5,216 tests on Monday, with a positivity rate of about five per cent, which is higher than in previous days.

“This is an increase from where we have been in the past few weeks, which is concerning,” Hinshaw said of that rate. “It is possible this increase is because of changes in who went for testing over the long weekend. So we will be watching closely in the days to come to see if this is an isolated finding or a concerning trend.”

The province now has a total of 221 cases of two faster-spreading variant strains of the virus. Of those cases, 214 are the B117 variant first identified in the United Kingdom and seven are the variant first detected in South Africa.

“I know that many Albertans are concerned about these variants, and I am, too,” Hinshaw said Tuesday at a news conference.

“I am particularly concerned about the growing number of cases that are not linked to travel. Though many of these cases are the results of close contacts that we have identified through robust contact tracing.”

For more, see: One week after restrictions eased, Alberta reports 263 new COVID-19 cases


Calgary police say officer shook anti-masker’s hand for agreeing to peacefully end protest

Calgary police say a video showing an officer shaking the hand of an unmasked, anti-mask protester captured the end of a peaceful negotiation — with no day-of enforcement despite a number of people breaking Public Health Act rules. 

On Saturday, dozens of unmasked protesters walked through Chinook Centre to protest public health restrictions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Videos of the event posted to social media show police officers escorting the protesters, and one officer shaking an unmasked protester’s hand and leaning in close, with an arm around the man’s shoulder, as the two converse. 

Police said in a release on Monday evening that members from its public safety unit, beat teams and diversity resources team were in attendance, and that the diversity resources team negotiated with the protesters to ensure they left the mall peacefully.

Calgary police said a video showing an officer shaking the hand of an anti-mask protester captured the end of a peaceful negotiation. They are committed to investigating the full scope of the protest, although no tickets were issued on the day. 3:12

“At the end of this negotiation, a handshake was offered and accepted. Another protester was nearby speaking into a bullhorn so the officer leaned in closer to hear what is being said,” police said.

Shortly after, the protesters left the mall, police said. 

“Our role at demonstrations such as these is to ensure public and officer safety, and for this reason, it is sometimes better to follow through with enforcement action post event. We commit to investigating the full scope of events in the coming days to determine what enforcement action may be taken.”

For more, see: Calgary police say officer shook anti-masker’s hand for agreeing to peacefully end protest


Perceived lack of enforcement is splintering public will to follow health measures, experts fear

Alberta’s race against coronavirus variants in the coming months depends on the public’s ability to follow public health rules, but some experts fear a continued lack of consequences for some protesting essential measures could cripple the province’s pandemic response.

There are seemingly weekly examples of Albertans defying public health rules by marching unmasked through malls, worshipping at over-capacity church services and walking out on mandatory hotel quarantine. All without any apparent consequences, apart from a handful of tickets. 

Some experts told CBC News that allowing these demonstrations to continue is dangerous. It can erode faith that these measures are necessary, and discourage compliance — which, in turn, hampers the province’s ability to fight the pandemic.

Especially as more transmissible COVID-19 variants threaten the gains Alberta has made to bring down case numbers in recent weeks.

“If the enforcement is simply going to be something symbolic or a token … but doesn’t actually prevent future such transgressions or deter a group or people from doing this again, then that’s not going to be effective,” said Dr. Tehseen Ladha, an assistant professor in pediatrics at the University of Alberta.

For more, see: Perceived lack of enforcement is splintering public will to follow health measures, experts fear


COVID-19 in long-term care under Alberta auditor’s microscope

Alberta’s auditor general will examine how the Alberta government managed billions of dollars in extra federal funding to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an audit plan for 2021-22 posted on the auditor’s website.

“In identifying potential areas to audit, our office will continue to look at areas of highest risk and importance, including programs and services that impact vulnerable citizens, and investments and activities designed to leverage economic recovery,” the audit plan reads.

Alberta’s auditor will look into several programs related to the pandemic this year, including the protection of long-term care home residents, federal recovery funding and an isolation payment program that hit snags. (CBC)

The auditor will also scrutinize the province’s management of the pandemic in long-term care and supported living.

For more, see: Opioid crisis, COVID-19 in long-term care under Alberta auditor’s microscope


View Source