Albertans are being warned to mask up and keep your gatherings small this Thanksgiving weekend, as COVID-19 numbers surge and the province continues to have one of the highest rates of active cases in the country.
On Thursday, Alberta set a record — reporting 364 new cases of COVID-19. Another 277 cases were recorded on Friday.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, Alberta had an active case rate of 48 per 100,000 people as of Thursday evening — ahead of Ontario, which sat at 37 per 100,000. Quebec remains the hotspot in the country with an active case rate of 100, followed by Manitoba, which reported a rate of 63 as of Thursday.
"I"m fearful that people think it's over," said Dr. Amy Tan, a Calgary family physician and spokesperson with the advocacy group Masks4Canada.
Tan has been watching as Alberta's numbers grow, with Edmonton accounting for a large proportion of the spike. She worries COVID-19 could explode if Thanksgiving isn't done right.
"That is the concern with Thanksgiving coming up, we're going to see an uptick again, especially if people are coming from out of town or they're coming back from staying in a college campus or a university campus and they're coming home. It's just a recipe for concern," said Tan.
Social gatherings drive transmission
This week, Alberta's chief medial officer of health said social and family gatherings are one key driver of Alberta's increasing transmission rates.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced new voluntary measures for the Edmonton zone in an effort to curb the spread. Those measures include limiting family and private social gatherings to no more than 15 people.
While Edmonton is of particular concern, Hinshaw said all Albertans should be vigilant, and she warned against gathering with big groups, including extended family and friends over the holiday weekend.
"We must all take precautions to limit the virus's spread to our friends, family and loved ones. I especially caution Albertans against planning large get-togethers this weekend. Now is not the time to be gathering in large groups, travelling long distances for the holiday, or sharing food or utensils with people outside your cohort," said Hinshaw.
"Keep your Thanksgiving small. Keep it safe. And protect one another."
It's a worry to infectious disease experts, too.
"Numbers … were suggesting the vast majority of viral transmissions were happening within a social setting — so private parties at houses with large numbers of people, restaurants, bars, things of that nature," said Craig Jenne, an associate professor in the department of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary.
He says people are likely growing weary of the pandemic and adhering to public health guidelines. And they may be trying to shake off the stress.
"But unfortunately we're doing so in not as safe a fashion as we could. And unfortunately this virus is arguably quite relentless when we start gathering in groups indoors. It takes advantage of these situations," he said.
'Wear a mask'
Tan says there is no room for complacency this holiday weekend.
"This is not going to be popular, but I think we need to think about masks even in social gatherings, in private social gatherings," she said.
Tan is calling on all Albertans to keep their Thanksgiving gatherings small — limit celebrations to just your bubble— and host them outdoors.
"If you're having people over who don't live with you — which I actually would not recommend as a good idea anyway — but if you are going to insist on doing that, you should be wearing a mask."