Alberta reported 696 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and identified another 130 cases of coronavirus variants.
It's been two months since the province last reported 700 new cases, while Friday's tally of variant cases is the highest yet recorded.
"This is a steep rise from yesterday's number of 505," David Shepherd, NDP health critic, said in news release Friday. "We have not seen a daily number like this for more than two months, since January 16.
"This is very worrying and I know many Albertans will be asking if this is an outlier or a signal of a third wave."
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said Thursday the trends are concerning. She said the next few weeks will be critical to prevent a third wave of COVID-19 in Alberta.
There are currently 5,429 active cases of COVID-19 in Alberta. Of those cases, 698, or 12.9 per cent, are highly infectious variants of concern.
"This dramatic growth of COVID-19 comes only days before Jason Kenney is scheduled to make a decision about Step 3 reopening," Shepherd said. "His language over this past week certainly suggests to me that he plans to proceed."
Premier Kenney said Thursday a final decision on moving forward has not been made.
Monday will mark three weeks since the province moved to Step 2 of the province's reopening plan and is the earliest date the government can move to Step 3.
Step 3 eases restrictions in areas including
Adult team sports
Casinos, racing centres and bingo halls
Further easing of youth sport and recreation activities
Indoor social gatherings, with restrictions
Indoor seated events (movie theatres and auditoria)
Museums, art galleries, zoos, interpretive centres
Places of worship
However the government says to move to Step 3, the number of people in hospital due to COVID-19 must be lower than 300 and declining.
On Friday, there were 276 people in hospital, an increase of 12 from Thursday, with 48 of those people in intensive care beds.
The number of new and active cases of variants has been growing in the province throughout the week. So far, 1,318 variant cases have been identified in Alberta. Of that number, 606 peopled have recovered, and 14 have died.
No new deaths due to COVID-19 were reported Friday — the first time that has happened since Nov. 22.
Hinshaw posted on Twitter that it has been five days since a COVID-19 death was reported in continuing care, calling it a sign that vaccines and public health measures are working.
As of Friday, 439,069 vaccine doses have been administered, with 92,935 people in Alberta fully immunized with both doses.
Here is a regional breakdown of active cases across Alberta is:
Calgary zone: 2,172
Edmonton zone: 1,299
North zone: 745
South zone: 675
Central zone: 526
Hinshaw referenced Lethbridge as one community experiencing concerning new trends. As of Friday, active cases had increased from 196 to 482 since Feb. 26. New cases are linked to family gatherings, visitations between households and people with mild symptoms not staying home or getting tested right away.
As of 8 a.m. on Friday morning, appointments are available in Alberta for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to everyone eligible in Phase 2A. This includes anyone born in 1956 or earlier, First Nations, Métis and Inuit People born in 1971 or earlier, and staff and residents of licensed supportive living facilities that weren't included in Phase 1.