Alberta’s chief medical officer of health and the president and CEO of Alberta Health Services will be speaking about COVID-19 and the pressures on the health system on Thursday afternoon.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Dr. Verna Yiu are scheduled to speak at 3:30 p.m. Their news conference will be streamed live in this story post.
This comes one day after Alberta announced a vaccine passport system and additional public health restrictions in response to soaring ICU rates that are pushing the health system to the brink of collapse.
“We may run out of staff and intensive care beds within the next 10 days,” Premier Jason Kenney said Wednesday, as he announced the United Conservative government declared a state of public health emergency.
“Unless we slow (virus) transmission, particularly amongst unvaccinated Albertans, we simply will not be able to provide adequate care to everyone who gets sick.”
As of Wednesday, Alberta had 269 patients in intensive care in a system set up for 173. Of the 269 patients in ICUs, 218 had COVID-19 — the vast majority (92.3 per cent) are unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated.
There have been mass cancellations of non-urgent surgeries throughout the province — transplants, some cancer treatments and children’s surgeries, as staff are reassigned to COVID-19 care.
Yiu said the health system has never had so many people in intensive care at one time.
Triage has not been activated yet, she said, but staff are being briefed on rules and processes.
“If activated, the triage will be provincial in scope (and) applicable to all health facilities and critical care units in Alberta,” Yiu said Wednesday.
Alberta has more than 18,000 active COVID-19 cases, by far the highest in Canada. Within the previous 24 hours, 24 COVID-related deaths were reported, Alberta Health said Wednesday.
The province has been lagging on vaccinations, with less than 72 per cent of those 12 and older, who are eligible, fully immunized.
To stem transmission, Kenney’s government introduced an array of measures including a form of the vaccine passport.
Several provinces are bringing in the passports, which compel people to prove they have been vaccinated before being allowed to use non-essential services.
Kenney said he was reluctant to approve what he called a “restriction exemption program.”
Starting Sept. 20, discretionary events and businesses (including retail shops, restaurants, nightclubs, casinos, concerts and libraries) must follow one of two options:
- Implement the Restrictions Exemption Program requiring proof of vaccination or negative rapid test result to continue operating as usual, or
- Choose not to implement the Restrictions Exemption Program and follow capacity and operating restrictions outlined here.
Businesses that opt out of the program can operate at reduced capacity and with distancing rules or restrictions. For example, restaurants not in the program are limited to outdoor dining with no more than six people at a table, or two designated contacts for Albertans who live alone.
However, when it comes to private indoor social gatherings, fully vaccinated Albertans cannot apply for exemptions.
The government said immunized Albertans will need to cap their gatherings at a cohort of 10 people and be “limited to a single household plus one other household.”
Unvaccinated Albertans will no longer be allowed to attend any private social gathering. Outdoor events will continue to have no capacity limits but two-metre physical distancing will be required.
Mandatory work-from-home orders are also in place unless it’s essential a worker is on-site. Masking in schools, previously left to school boards, is now mandatory for students in Grade 4 and up, along with staff and teachers for all grades.
Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the necessary measures were sadly preventable.
“This is a crisis of this premier and his cabinet’s own making.”
She said Kenney pushed Alberta faster and harder than any other province and refused to act for weeks when it was obvious something had to be done.
“He refused to take responsibility. He blamed in fact low vaccination rates for the fact that he ignored the evidence and went into hiding.
“What we saw today from the premier was not an apology. It was an embarrassing attempt to duck responsibility.”
— With files from Phil Heidenreich, Global News
© 2021 The Canadian Press