Alberta has reached a "critical juncture" in the COVID-19 pandemic, reporting 6,110 active cases, says the province's top public health official.
The province added 2,268 new cases over the most recent four-day period. The daily breakdown was:
Friday, Oct. 30, 581 cases.
Saturday, Oct. 31, 525 cases.
Sunday, Nov. 1, 592 cases.
Monday, Nov. 2, 570 cases.
"We are at a critical juncture in this pandemic," Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said Tuesday at a news conference.
"I know this has been a tiring year and one that's taken a mental and physical toll on many. But we cannot give up. We must not give up. I believe one of the problems underlying pandemic fatigue is a sense of powerlessness, and for some, a loss of hope.
"It can be easy to feel like COVID is happening to us, that it is beyond our control to make better or worse. But hope is not lost. We still have the power to collectively reverse the trend.
"We don't know where every exposure happens, but we do know where a lot of our cases are coming from, and that's from the times that we are interacting with our co-workers, our extended family and our network of friends."
Over the last four days, Alberta averaged 567 new cases per day, Hinshaw said.
"This is a large and troubling number, one that drives home the challenge we are facing. As the case numbers reported over the last few weeks show, we are facing a concerning situation, and we need to reduce the rate of transmission if we want to avoid more difficult choices in the future."
The province's lab positivity rate rose to 6.8 per cent on Monday, Hinshaw said, and in Edmonton the positivity rate was almost nine per cent.
Calgary catches Edmonton
In recent days, Calgary has caught up to Edmonton with each city now having more than 2,500 active cases.
The regional breakdown of active cases on Monday was:
Edmonton zone: 2,581
Calgary zone: 2,532
North zone: 413
South zone: 317
Central zone: 235
The province also reported 15 more deaths during that four-day period.
"This is a heartbreaking number that underscores the seriousness of the pandemic," Hinshaw said.
WATCH | Dr. Hinshaw says those who break pandemic rules should face consequences
As of Monday there were 167 people being treated in hospitals for the illness, including 27 patients in ICU beds.
Edmonton hospitals have been hardest hit, accounting for 100 of the total and 13 of the ICU cases.
"While COVID has consumed much of our attention in our lives, we must not forget that babies are still being born, accidents are still occurring, and Albertans continue to experience a wide range of urgent health needs," Hinshaw said.
"Our top priority is protecting the health system to ensure that COVID-19 does not threaten our ability to provide the essential care that Albertans require for all their health issues."
COVID-19 worse than flu
Alberta is now in flu season, and Hinshaw said she has heard some people dismiss COVID-19 as no different from influenza.
She stressed that there is no vaccine for COVID-19, and the coronavirus is more deadly than seasonal influenza.
"In the last four influenza seasons, the peak number of deaths we have recorded in a full year is 92," she said. "In just eight months, there have been 338 deaths from COVID-19, despite taking extraordinary measures to contain transmission."
COVID-19 also has a greater impact on the health system, she said. In the past five years, the highest number of influenza outbreaks seen hospitals was 40 in 2017-18.
"In six months alone, and despite aggressive measures to limit transmission, we have already had more than 40 COVID-19 outbreaks in acute care settings," she said.
"COVID-19 is here and it's not going away anytime soon. The onus is on us to adapt, and to embrace the measures that will keep us safe and limit the spread while continuing to live and function as a society."
Household transmission worrying
A large portion of current transmission has been within households, Hinshaw said.
"That means that family members are infecting one another."
The daily numbers over the last four days were down slightly from those reported on Thursday, Oct. 29, when a record of 622 new cases were reported. That day the province had 5,172 active cases.
If Albertans take extra precautions during social interactions, that would help reverse the trend and protect the health system, Hinshaw said.
"Many times we have seen a single family member develop symptoms and infect five, eight or even more than 10 others in their immediate or extended family. If you are sick with even mild symptoms, you need to take steps to protect those around you."
People who are sick should isolate themselves in a separate room from others, and if possible use a different bedroom and bathroom, she said.
Those who can't isolate should wear masks and disinfect common surfaces after using them. They should not eat meals with other family members and shouldn't share utensils or food, or spend prolonged time in close contact with others, like watching a movie together on a couch.
"When COVID-19 starts to escalate, it can do so quickly and dramatically. Within the next few days, we will start to see if the recent public health measures, including the limits on social gatherings in Edmonton and Calgary, are enough to reduce the rate of transmission.
"If they are not, we must consider other options. We will continue to follow the evidence and to look closely at what measures may have the most impact based on the data in our province.
"As we watch for the impact of our changes, it is critical that all Albertans continue to follow all public health measures, regardless of where they live. In particular, in areas where case numbers are increasing, I ask you to think carefully about your actions."