Alberta's COVID-19 restrictions slowed spread twice in the past, Hinshaw says

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Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the COVID-19 situation in this file photo. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press - image credit)
Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the COVID-19 situation in this file photo. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press - image credit)

Public health restrictions similar to the ones implemented earlier this week in Alberta have been effective twice before and should help to slow the spread again, says Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

But with active cases of COVID-19 still climbing, the province's chief medical officer of health is urging Albertans to stay home whenever possible.

"The suite of restrictions that we have in place was effective in March, was effective in December," Hinshaw said Thursday at a news conference.

When asked about retail outlets, which continue to operate with significantly reduced customer capacity, Hinshaw said it would be difficult to determine which businesses are truly essential. That decision presented a big challenge to the province one year ago.

"I would encourage all Albertans to consider following, again, the recommendation for only leaving home for essential purposes," she said.

Alberta reported 2,211 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday but no more deaths from the illness.

There are now 24,497 active cases across the province, which has the highest active-case rate in Canada. The positivity rate on Thursday was 11.1 per cent.

"We don't yet know if we have hit the peak of new cases," Hinshaw said.

The provincial R-value of 1.12 last week shows that cases continue to grow.

On Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney tightened public health restrictions in a bid to slow the spread.

Implementing those new measures, which range from shifting all schools online to shrinking the size of outdoor gatherings, was critical, Hinshaw said.

"We all need to significantly reduce the number of interactions we have in person, every day, in every part of our lives," Hinshaw said.

"Cases have risen to the point that we cannot simply target one sector or group. Whether it is social gatherings, faith services, esthetics locations or fitness classes, each activity involves Albertans mingling in person and risks exposure to the virus."

Across the province, hospitals were treating 654 patients for the illness, including 146 in ICU beds.

Hinshaw noted the lag between new cases and hospital numbers, but added that the double-punch of restrictions and the stepped-up vaccine rollout will start making a difference.

"The combined impact of those two things together can have a significant — and I anticipate, will have — a significant impact on transmission in coming weeks," she said.

The regional breakdown of active cases on Thursday was:

  • Calgary zone: 10,639

  • Edmonton zone: 5,979

  • North zone: 3,616

  • Central zone: 2,899

  • South zone: 1,321

  • Unknown: 43

The sweeping measures introduced on Tuesday moved all kindergarten to Grade 12 students online, closed restaurant patios and further restricted capacity inside businesses and places of worship.

All indoor fitness activities must stop. All personal services such as hair salons and tattoo parlours must close. With the exception of critical services, workplaces with outbreaks must temporarily shut down.

The fine for violating public health measures was doubled to $2,000 and the province has vowed to adopt a co-ordinated enforcement strategy to deal with repeat offenders.

The province has also expanded vaccine eligibility. All Albertans aged 12 and older will be able to book starting Monday, putting another 1.3 million Albertans in line for shots.

Alberta Health Services reported that more than 100,000 new appointments were booked on Thursday.

"We've been down this road before. But thanks to vaccines we are seeing other jurisdictions bend the curve and keep it there," Hinshaw said.

"This will happen here too, as more and more of us step up to get vaccine and form part of a protective wall around our communities so we don't have to go through these types of widespread restrictions again.

"This is a challenging moment but one we can get through — and will get through — by limiting in-person interactions as much as possible."

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