Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Wednesday, Jan. 27

The latest:

  • Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, reported Wednesday there had been another 459 new cases of COVID-19 with around a 3.6 per cent positivity rate.
  • There are 8,203 active cases in the province, down from 12,920 a week earlier. 
  • Alberta has now lost 1,599 people to the disease since the pandemic began last March. Twelve new deaths were reported on Wednesday.
  • There are 604 people in hospital, with 110 in intensive care.
  • Since reaching a peak on Dec. 7, with 1,767 new cases per day, the seven-day average of daily new cases has been steadily declining. The UCP government under Jason Kenney imposed tighter public health restrictions in November and again in December. As of Monday, the seven-day average was 537, which is roughly the level it was at in early November, when the numbers were rising rapidly. 
  • With case numbers falling, the province eased some public health restrictions on Jan. 18, allowing hair salons, barbershops and other personal-services businesses to reopen by appointment only; up to 10 people to gather outdoors; and up to 20 people to attend funerals provided all who attend wear masks and maintain two metres of physical distancing.
  • Public health restrictions will continue to remain in place, Hinshaw said, as there are concerns about how the coronavirus variants could affect spread. 
  • Hinshaw reminded Albertans on Tuesday to ensure they aren’t consuming COVID-19 misinformation. She suggested looking for information from reputable sources, that can be confirmed by other reputable sources like epidemiologists and public health experts. 

Dr. Deena Hinshaw is asking all Albertans to be thoughtful about what they post and share as the province works to combat misinformation about COVID-19 1:15

  • A more easily transmitted coronavirus variant may be spreading within Alberta after being first identified in the U.K., provincial Health Minister Tyler Shandro warned Monday. “Let me be blunt: This now is very concerning,” Shandro said.
  • As of Monday, Alberta had found 20 cases of the variant first identified in the United Kingdom, with all but one directly linked to travel.
  • Six schools in Alberta have transitioned to at-home learning due to COVID-19, Alberta Education confirmed on Monday, affecting thousands of staff and students.
  • Currently, 288 schools, about 12 per cent, are on alert or have outbreaks, with 554 cases in total. In-school transmission is believed to have occurred in 53 schools. Outbreaks are declared in 15 schools, with a total of 107 cases. In-school transmission has likely occurred in 53 schools. Of these, 41 have had only one new case occur as a result.
  • There are nearly double the number of Alberta students enrolled in home education programs this school year over last, according to data released by the province on Monday. 
  • A total of 101,123 vaccine doses had been administered as of Wednesday.

See the detailed regional breakdown:

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

  • Calgary zone: 3,252, down from 3,369 reported on Monday (43,153 recovered).
  • Edmonton zone: 2,862, down from 3,027 (47,292 recovered).
  • North zone: 1,009, down from 1,132 (8,797 recovered).
  • South zone: 355, down from 362 (5,325 recovered). 
  • Central zone: 712, down from 746 (7,876 recovered).
  • Unknown: 13, down from 16 (115 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

(Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

Here are the latest Alberta COVID-19 stories:

COVID-19 restrictions in classrooms prompted Christina Im, centre, to home school her three kids this year.  (Christina Im)

Union boss wants meat-plant workers on early COVID-19 vaccine list

The president of a union representing employees at some of the largest meat-packing plants in the country says there needs to be a discussion about making the COVID-19 vaccine more readily available to essential workers.

Thomas Hesse of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 says he realizes there’s a shortage of the vaccine right now. But once that is remedied, he says, workers at large operations such as the Cargill meat-packing plant near High River, Alta., and the JBS Canada plant in Brooks, Alta., shouldn’t have to wait too long.

“In the coming months at some point someone’s going to make a decision about who gets the vaccination. Will there be a priority? Will there be any prioritization of any so-called essential workers?” he asked in an interview with The Canadian Press.

The two plants, which together normally process about 70 per cent of Canada’s beef supply, were hot spots for COVID-19 outbreaks last spring.

Cargill’s plant, south of Calgary, shut down for two weeks in April because of an outbreak that initially affected 350 of its 2,200 workers. Eventually nearly half the workers contracted the novel coronavirus and two employees died.

Digital campaign aims to counter COVID-19 conspiracies, misinformation

A new digital campaign is looking to flood social media sites with accurate, science-informed content about COVID-19.

Misinformation and conspiracy theories have plagued the online discussion around COVID-19 since the pandemic began. 

University of Alberta professor Timothy Caulfield said his concern has increased over the privacy risks of DNA testing kits. (Sam Martin/CBC)

But that misinformation has shifted in the past 10 months, says Timothy Caulfield, Canada research chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta. Canadians are becoming more polarized, and ideology and personal identity have become bigger factors in COVID-19 misinformation.

“You see anti-vaxxers using language like choice and liberty and freedom in order to get people into their community. And then all of a sudden, this misinformation becomes an ideological flag,” Caulfield said on CBC’s Radio Active on Monday.

More easily transmitted COVID-19 variant may have entered the community

A variant of the COVID-19 virus known for its ease of transmission appears to have already entered the community, Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro said in a news conference Monday.

“Let me be blunt: This now is very concerning,” Shandro said.

Alberta has found 20 cases of the variant first identified in the United Kingdom, with all but one directly linked to travel, he said. That one case of the B117 variant has raised concerns that there may be more cases in the province.

The ease in which these variants spread would cause huge spikes in Alberta’s COVID-19 case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths, particularly without health measures in place to slow transmission, Shandro said. 

“These variants can spread very quickly,” Shandro said. “The emerging research indicates that they have a significantly higher infection rate, estimated to be 30 to 50 per cent higher than the strain that we’ve had in Alberta to date.”

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said current restrictions in place will continue.

“The rise of new variants in Alberta and around the world also makes it vital that we not move too quickly, which could have dire consequences for our health system and our health,” she said. 

Hockey Alberta sets deadline on decision for 2020-21 minor hockey season

Hockey Alberta has set a deadline to decide whether or not to continue planning league play for the 2020-21 minor hockey season.

Hockey Alberta, in conjunction with its sanctioned minor leagues for male and female hockey, said in a statement Tuesday it is reviewing the sustainability of league play for the remainder of the season.

Hockey Alberta officials say, if there is no new information from the Government of Alberta by Feb. 1, a decision will have to be made. (Lucky Business/Shutterstock)

In the statement, Hockey Alberta officials said that if there is no new information from the Government of Alberta by Feb. 1, a decision will have to be made about its league play based on the current information available.

Hockey Alberta said any decision regarding league play doesn’t mean the end of hockey activity for the 2020-21 season, and that other potential ideas such as skill development programming and/or exhibition or mini-league games could be viable options with the required safety protocols in place.

Calgary site purchased for made-in-Canada vaccine

A made-in-Canada vaccine to protect against COVID-19 is to begin human clinical trials Tuesday in Toronto, and will soon be produced in a massive facility in Calgary, says the biotechnology company that developed the vaccine.

Providence Therapeutics said three shots will be given to 60 adult volunteers at a clinical trial site in Toronto in the first phase of the trial on Tuesday. 

Fifteen of those volunteers will receive a placebo, and 45 will get the vaccine, called PTX-COVID19-B.

Brad Sorenson, the company’s CEO, said it’s the first time a vaccine designed and manufactured in Canada has begun clinical trials. 

The company purchased a 20,000-square-foot facility in Calgary that includes 12,000 square feet of lab space to mass produce the vaccine. The facility will be up and running in two months, Sorensen said. 

The vaccine is an mRNA vaccine — which triggers an immune response in the body — and is similar to the Moderna coronavirus shot being given to people across Canada.

Sorenson says his company hopes to have a vaccine ready for rollout by early next year. He told the CBC’s As It Happens it could have happened a lot sooner had the federal government gotten on board early. 

6 Alberta schools shift to at-home classes due to COVID-19

Six schools in Alberta have transitioned to at-home learning due to COVID-19, Alberta Education confirmed on Monday, affecting thousands of staff and students.

Starting Monday, students from two Edmonton high schools who opted for in-school classes will transition to online lessons for two weeks.

From left, M.E. LaZerte High School and J. Percy Page High School. More than 2,000 students from the two Edmonton high schools were being sent home due to COVID-19 starting Monday. (Google Streetview)

The decision was made after 33 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed last week at the two schools, M.E. LaZerte and J. Percy Page, Edmonton Public Schools said in a news release Sunday evening. More than 700 students and staff are already in quarantine. 

Morrin School, about 30 kilometres north of Drumheller, and Blackie School southeast of Okotoks are also among the schools transitioning to online lessons, said Justin Marshall, press secretary to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. The Kisiko Awasis School in the Edmonton Catholic Division is also on the list. 

Kathleen Finnigan, superintendent of Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools, said the decision to move all 750 St. Joseph High School students online for two weeks starting Monday was necessary and proactive.

In a statement, Finnigan said 68 per cent of students and 71 per cent of staff at the school are now in quarantine.

The moves come two weeks after in-person classes resumed across the province. In late November, as cases across the province spiked, all students in Grades 7-12 were transitioned to online learning.

COVID-19 vaccine delays add another layer of angst for older Albertans

Uncertainty about COVID-19 vaccine availability is taking a toll on older Albertans who have been living in the shadow of the potentially deadly coronavirus for a year.

The Alberta government recently announced all Albertans over 75 — who were scheduled to start receiving their shots in February — will have to wait due to manufacturing delays at Pfizer. The postponement also impacts First Nations and Métis people over the age of 65.

It’s another layer of angst on top of a year of living in fear and isolation.

Allan Singleton-Wood, 88, has a number of serious health problems including COPD. He’s also had two strokes and a recent heart attack requiring surgery. Singleton-Wood, who lives on his own and has been unable to visit with his family in-person for nine months, calls the vaccine delay “stressful” and “frustrating.” (Mike Symington/CBC)

“It’s terribly, terribly stressful,” said Allan Singleton-Wood, 88, who lives alone in Calgary and hasn’t been able to visit with his daughter or grandchildren in nine months.

Singleton-Wood is particularly high risk because he has a number of serious health problems including COPD. He’s also suffered two strokes and recently had surgery after a heart attack.

“It doesn’t make sense to me that I’m just stuck here and goodness knows how long it’s going to be,” he said.

  • For the latest on what’s happening in the rest of Canada and around the world on Wednesday, see here.

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