Alberta once again broke two COVID-19 records on Thursday when the province reported 427 new cases and a total of 3,519 active cases of the illness.
But while both the premier and the province's top doctor called the numbers concerning, Alberta is not considering bringing in new restrictions to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
"I think it's important to acknowledge that the virus is here to stay," Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday while self-isolating at home. "And unless or until there is widespread immunity either through natural infection or through the widespread use of a vaccine, we have to cope with it and we have to carry on with life."
On Thursday, 112 people were being treated in hospitals (61 in the Edmonton zone), including 18 in ICU beds, half of them in the Edmonton zone.
To deal with the rising numbers of people in hospital in the capital region, Alberta Health Services is activating new measures to postpone non-urgent surgeries and some outpatient services, said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health.
"I am very concerned about the rise in numbers," Hinshaw said at a news conference on Thursday. "We are looking seriously at the spread and determining what our next steps should be."
Kenney said the government is "obviously concerned" about the growing number of active cases in the province. He said until recent weeks Alberta had case numbers that were lower than other large provinces, all 50 U.S. states and all European countries.
"We have done very well against international metrics and against our own modelling, and in protecting the capacity of the health-care system," he said.
'Surge capacity measures'
It has been two weeks since voluntary measures were implemented within the Edmonton zone, Hinshaw said.
Over the past few days, case numbers have risen again, she said.
"As a result of this rise in cases, and the current and future need for hospital beds, Edmonton zone is activating new surge capacity measures in order to support safe patient flow through hospitals in the area.
Along with rising case numbers and hospitalization numbers there has been an increase in the number of front-line health-care workers who are off due to quarantine restrictions, Hinshaw said.
"Because of this, AHS has made the decision to postpone non-urgent surgeries and some ambulatory-care clinic visits in the Edmonton zone. Urgent, emergent and cancer surgeries will continue," she said.
The impact on the health system are primarily in Edmonton, but Calgary and other parts of the province have also seen a rise in cases, she said.
"The leading source of exposures for active cases right now is close contacts, and many of the cases that we are seeing now are the result of spread over Thanksgiving, when families gathered together.
The regional breakdown of active cases was:
Edmonton zone: 1,718
Calgary zone: 1,260
South zone: 204
North zone: 198
Central zone: 126
Hinshaw reported two new outbreaks in the province. An outbreak at the Edmonton General Continuing Care outbreak has been linked to 23 cases, including 19 residents. An outbreak at the Calgary Correctional Centre has 24 cases, 20 of them inmates.
The northern community of Fort Chipewyan has its first two cases. The two people who tested positive had travelled outside Fort Chipewyan for "essential travel," Mikisew Cree First Nation Chief Peter Powder said Wednesday.
No plans to impose 'indiscriminate' restrictions
Despite record numbers of COVID-19 cases, the Alberta government has no plans to impose "indiscriminate" restrictions that would shut down the hospitality industry, Kenney said.
The premier, who is self-isolating at home after a minister in his government tested positive on Wednesday, said Alberta has so far accomplished its primary goal of protecting lives while ensuring the health-care system is not overwhelmed.
The premier was scheduled to make a speech in the legislature on Wednesday about the pandemic. But that same afternoon, Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard announced she had tested positive for the illness. Kenney said he was told about Allard's positive test after question period and quickly left and went home to self-isolate.
Transportation Minister Ric McIver, along with United Conservative Party MLAs Angela Pitt, Peter Guthrie and Nathan Neudorf were also self-isolating because they had interactions with Allard.
Alberta's COVID-19 pandemic has been consistently breaking records this month.
On Oct. 1, the province reported 140 new cases of the illness, and the total number of active cases was 1,546
Less than three weeks later, on Oct. 21, the province registered a record 427 new cases, and active cases had more than doubled to a record 3,519.
But Kenney said Thursday the province has been "very successful" at maintaining the least-stringent public restrictions while still managing to have some of the best results in the Western world.
'We cannot shut down our lives'
The province's primary goal is to prevent the health-care system from being overwhelmed, Kenney said.
The government must take into account the broader picture, he said, which includes protecting physical health, but also mental and emotional health and social and economic health, because they are all linked.
"We cannot eliminate the risk, we have to manage the risk. We cannot shut down our lives. And our twin goal is protecting both lives and livelihoods."
Polling suggests there is less support for "lockdown-style policies" in Alberta than in other jurisdictions, he said.
"And I think intuition of Albertans who are skeptical about lockdowns is pretty correct."
"When it comes to any future restrictions they will be limited, discrete, targeted,and based on data not on indiscriminate policies that shut down and impair entire segments of our economy."