Alberta recorded 30 COVID-19 deaths Thursday, the highest number ever reported on a single day, prompting the province's top health official to reflect on the "heartbreaking" number and the importance of following restrictions.
"This is a heartbreaking figure," Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, said Thursday at a news conference. "While these deaths did not all occur yesterday, this is the highest figure that I have had the sad task of reporting.
"If anyone still needs reminding of the seriousness of this virus, of the importance of the restrictions that are currently in place, and the importance of doing everything possible to limit our interactions and break the chains of transmission, this is it," Hinshaw said.
"There are now 790 Albertans who have died as a result of COVID-19."
The province reported 1,571 new cases over the 24-hour period that ended at midnight Wednesday. There were 763 people being treated in Alberta hospitals for the illness, including 138 in ICU beds.
There were 19,865 active cases as of Wednesday, the first time that total has dropped below 20,000 since Dec. 5.
The regional breakdown of active cases was:
Edmonton zone: 9,525
Calgary zone: 7,043
Central zone: 1,462
North zone: 1,214
South zone: 541
Laboratories completed 19,800 more tests, for a positivity rate of 7.9 per cent.
'We can and must celebrate differently'
Hinshaw noted that seasonal holidays are about a week away and reminded the public to follow the restrictions put in place by the province.
"This year we can and must celebrate differently," she said. "Holiday gatherings with people outside of your household are not only against the restrictions that are in place, they are also the wrong thing to do right now."
The safest way for people to celebrate this year is within their own household, or with two designated close contacts for those who live alone, Hinshaw said.
"I want to be clear that the compassionate choice is to follow the rules. It may not seem like a big deal to get together with your extended family or group of friends. If you all feel fine, you may think that there is no risk of catching COVID-19 or passing it on to others. But that is simply wrong."
Hinshaw said there have been many examples of people attending gatherings when they have mild symptoms such as headaches or stuffy noses that they didn't connect with COVID-19, or were infectious and didn't know it.
"The result has been one case spreading to many," she said. "That is how cases rise and outbreaks start. These orders are not recommendations. They are legal restrictions, and for them to be effective we need everyone to do their part. Thank you to all those who are changing plans and finding joy in different ways this year."
During her update, Hinshaw said as of Wednesday evening 394 health-care workers had received their first doses of vaccine.
"I know that many people want to be vaccinated immediately, and that is a good thing," she said. "There are about 4.4 million Albertans. It will take time to get enough vaccine to offer to everyone who wants it.
"Please be patient while we all wait for our turn, and be supportive of those who are in the initial groups to be immunized."
The distribution plan will begin with critical health-care and long-term care workers and residents in continuing care.
"These are people who are most at risk, and who are putting themselves in harm's way every day," she said.
Public health teams fanning out
The Alberta government announced this week that public health teams will fan out across the hardest hit parts of Edmonton and Calgary to help residents try to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The province identified 11 areas with high transmission rates where those efforts will concentrate, nine in Edmonton and two that cover all of northeast Calgary (east of the Deerfoot Trail)
Here's what case numbers look like in those areas, according to the latest update:
Calgary, Upper Northeast, 1,305.5 cases per 100,000 population, and 1,501 active cases
Calgary, Lower Northeast, 760.1 cases per 100,000 population, and 732 active cases
Edmonton, Northeast, 904.4 cases per 100,000 population, and 804 active cases
Edmonton, Northgate, 821.6 cases per 100,000 population, and 677 active cases
Edmonton, Castle Downs, 769.9 cases per 100,000 population, and 543 active cases
Edmonton, Woodcroft West, 676.9 cases per 100,000 population, and 684 active cases
Edmonton, Woodcroft East, 756.9 cases per 100,000 population, and 457 active cases
Edmonton, Jasper Place, 828.6 cases per 100,000 population, and 390 active cases
Edmonton, Eastwood, 957.3 cases per 100,000 population, and 695 active cases
Edmonton, Abbottsfield, 729 cases per 100,000 population, and 106 active cases
Edmonton, Mill Woods West, 895.9 cases per 100,000 population, and 548 active cases
For comparison sake, here are four other urban areas in Alberta:
City of Lethbridge, 206.1 cases per 100,000, and 204 active cases.
City of Medicine Hat, 124.9 cases per 100,000, and 85 active cases.
City of Red Deer, 393.6 cases per 100,000, and 417 active cases.
City of Grande Prairie, 162.8 cases per 100,000, and 120 active cases.