Alberta will not be moving into Step 3 of its reopening plan due to rising cases, hospitalizations and variant numbers in the province.
On Monday, Alberta Minister of Health Tyler Shandro said due to the recent case numbers and the amount of people in the hospital, the province will not continue to ease restrictions.
"Moving to Step 3 can be considered only when hospitalizations for COVID patients are under 300 and declining. Hospitalizations must be on a clear downward trajectory if we are to enter any new step, just like they were when we entered Step 1 and Step 2 earlier this year,” Shandro said.
"Today, while hospitalizations are indeed below 300, they've risen in recent days. The decline that we saw in January and early February has stopped. Alberta now sits at 280 COVID hospitalizations, which is a rise of 16 from a week ago.”
Shandro said it would be unfair to ease restrictions only to reinstate them a few days later when hospitalizations rise again above 300. Based on current transmission rates, the province expects that mark to be hit within the week.
While the province is continuing to roll out vaccines, they aren’t happening fast enough to fight off the third wave.
Right now, there are 280 people in the hospital, with half of those under the age of 65, a group that hasn’t yet been vaccinated. Some 90 per cent of the 48 people in intensive care are under 65.
“Most of them wouldn’t be there if they had been vaccinated at this time,” Shandro said.
The province reported another 456 cases of COVID-19 on Monday, with 7,500 tests run and a positivity rate of 6.1 per cent. There were five deaths reported to Alberta Health on Monday.
Cases in Alberta have been climbing again in recent weeks, with new cases topping 500 every day since the middle of last week. The number of new cases is dragging up active cases in the province, with active cases hitting 6,176 on Monday. Hospitalizations have gone up for the past seven days.
The positivity rate in the province is growing along with the amount of cases spreading in the province.
“Our cases are rising and the spread is increasing,” Shandro said.
In the last week, the R-value – the number of infections caused by a person infected with COVID-19 – for the province is sitting at 1.14, with Calgary coming in at 1.23. Edmonton has an R-value of 1.13 and the rest of Alberta has an R-value of 1.05.
COVID-19 variants are also spreading more rapidly in the province, with 110 new cases of the variant of concern diagnosed in the past 24 hours, bringing variants to 16 per cent of total cases diagnosed in the province, up from 10 per cent at the beginning of March.
“Perhaps the biggest issue is the number of variants of concern are also rising in the province,” Shandro said.
"We saw in November, as well as in December, what can happen if things get out of control, and just how quickly that can happen."
Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said right now Albertans need to continue to follow public health orders to stop the virus from spreading in the province.
“It is important that every one of us understand the power that our actions have.”
Hinshaw said in the coming weeks Albertans have to make choices to protect our communities and make sure to follow the spirit of the rules and not look for loopholes.
“COVID-19 is still very much with us," Hinshaw said.
“The reality is, once we hit a growth phase of this virus, our numbers will not stand still.”
Hinshaw said cases are rising due to a few trends, including the rapid spread other variant of concern first identified in the United Kingdom, B 1.1.7 in households because of how contagious it is.
Another trend driving an increase in cases is social gatherings. Hinshaw said the virus can spread rapidly in any situation when public health measures are not being followed.
So far, the province has given out around 488,000 doses of vaccine with another 70,000 doses booked for this week. Alberta will begin the final stages of Phase 2A of the vaccine roll-out for those aged 65 and older.
“This is remarkable progress," Shandro said.
Phase 2B, which will see those with chronic health conditions get the vaccination, is expected to start very soon.
But right now, vaccinations cannot hold back the surging COVID-19 cases and Albertans have to stay the course of the public health measures a little while longer, Shandro said.
“We just need to hold fast for a little while longer. We need to stay the course and keep abiding by the public health measures that can slow the spread of COVID-19 in the province,” Shandro said.
Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, St. Albert Gazette